The lights are at full blast in the Tap Room today and I spent all last night cleaning off the mirror behind the bar.
It’s time for you, faithful Connolly’s patrons, to take a deep, clear look inward and outward here.
OK, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but I want to know what you were thinking on March 29, Opening Day, and what you are thinking now. And how it connects.
Not about everything, of course. Just about the Orioles.
I want you to narrow it down a little more. I want to know what aspect of this team – a player, a unit, whatever – has been opposite from what you imagined when the umpires first said ‘Play Ball,” in late March.
I’ll give you my two most unexpected developments.
One, I’m pretty surprised by how shaky the defense has been so far. I guess I assumed there would be some growing pains on the left side of the infield and I couldn’t anticipate that second baseman Jonathan Schoop and right fielder Colby Rasmus would already be on the shelf by mid-April. But the defense, collectively, has been sub-par, certainly below what the Orioles enjoyed during the recent resurgence under manager Buck Showalter.
He wasn’t happy with the 2017 defense and put an emphasis on that in the spring. Yet, with all the musical chairs, it seems to have taken a further step backward. I won’t belabor this point though. You can read more of my thoughts about the O’s defense in Monday’s post.
Secondly, and this is the one that really struck me, is the early performance of Andrew Cashner, who will make his fourth start for the Orioles this evening in Detroit.
Initially, I was surprised that the pitcher the Orioles wanted because he historically kept the ball in the ballpark would give up three home runs on a cold night at Camden Yards in his team debut. That, I figured, did not bode well, for the sticky, humid summers when the ball darts out of the stadium.
But then Cashner pitched in New York and again in Baltimore. And I was struck by how much he pitched. How he didn’t just use his bread-and-butter sinker, but how he mixed in his slider, curve and changeup and how he moved the ball from side to side and up and down.
His reliance on his fastball has dropped from a peak of 71 percent in 2014 to 59 percent so far this year, according to fangraphs.com. Just since last year, the use of his slider/cutter has jumped from 12 to 18 percent and his curveball from 8.4 percent to 14.5 percent.
“Last year, it kind of started for me going to the American League, definitely a different beast,” said Cashner, who spent his entire career in the National League before 2017. “I think I’ve gotten more confident in throwing off-speed (pitches) in fastball counts and, when push comes to shove, it’s just making a (good) pitch.”
In his last two games against stout offenses, Cashner took charge.
And he missed plenty of bats, which was the major concern about Cashner heading into 2018. Last year, while with the Texas Rangers, the big right-hander struck out just 86 batters in 166 2/3 innings or a concerning 4.6 strikeouts per nine innings. In his three starts so far, Cashner has fanned 16 in 18 innings – that’s 8.0 per nine, which is better than his career average of 7.0.
He’s been pitching, not throwing, and that’s been intriguing to watch so far. And it’s something we haven’t seen much from Orioles starters in recent years.
“As you evolve as a pitcher and as a player you learn things that you’re good at. You try to work your way through a game,” said Cashner, whose fastball averaged a peak of 97.7 mph in 2012 and, so far, has averaged 92.1 in 2018. “There’s always going to be that point in a game where the game can go one of two ways. And I think that having the ability to slow the game down and make a pitch in those spots is kind of what I feel I have been best at.”
So, yeah, Cashner’s style of pitching has been the biggest (pleasant) surprise for me. By the way, if you want to hear more of my interview with the 31-year-old Cashner, it is featured as part of my weekly radio show on WOYK in York, Pa. You can access the show by hitting the play button below the Tap-In Question, by downloading the show as a podcast from iTunes (BaltimoreBaseball.com is all one word in the app store and on iTunes) or by going to the station’s archive.
That’s a voluntary action at the Tap Room today.
What’s mandatory is telling me what has surprised you the most so far this Orioles’ season. Can be good, can be bad. Your call. I just want the observation that follows this line, “Here’s what I didn’t see coming so far…”
Tap-In Question: What has surprised you the most – good or bad — about the first few weeks of this Orioles’ season?