On Wednesday night, the Orioles finally did something they haven’t in a while: They looked like a major league team.
Sure, it came against a piddling squad, the Kansas City Royals (12-24). And sure, it won’t vault the Orioles into playoff contention anytime soon. They still hold MLB’s worst record at 9-27.
But for a ballclub that had lost seven in a row and gave up a 10-spot in the first inning to this same Royals team Tuesday, any victory is welcomed. Wednesday’s contest featured quality pitching, clutch hitting and — with one late exception — solid defense.
The deciding blow was Mark Trumbo’s two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the eighth that broke a 3-3 tie. It was the kind of timely hit that has too often been missing for the woeful Orioles’ offense, which entered the night ranked last in the AL in batting average (.225) and OPS (.662).
Trumbo is now batting .303 (10-for-33) since coming off the DL at the start of the Orioles’ recent West Coast road trip.
“It felt great,” Trumbo said. “Happy to come through. I think we played a nice game tonight. We did a lot of things really well, and it went our way.”
Orioles’ starter Andrew Cashner delivered what might best be called a gritty outing. He made his way through the first five innings with two runs of damage, both on a Lucas Duda fourth-inning homer, but it was the sixth inning that really tested his mettle. Cashner was one out away from stranding a leadoff double but caught a bad break when a Duda bloop fell in beyond the shifted infield for a game-tying single.
A Whit Merrifield double put the go-ahead runs in scoring position. With Cashner’s pitch count over the century mark, and newly recalled southpaw Tanner Scott warming up, Buck Showalter could have opted to go to the bullpen against the lefty-swinging Alex Gordon. Instead, Showalter showed faith in his veteran starter, intentionally walking Gordon to set up the righty-righty matchup between Cashner and Alcides Escobar.
The gamble paid off, as Cashner retired Escobar on a comebacker to leave the bases loaded.
“I always believe in myself,” Cashner said. “Everything I do, I don’t ever expect to come out. It’s kind of my mentality. I was just able to bear down and make a pitch.”
Much-maligned slugger Chris Davis got in on the fun, bashing an opposite-field, three-run homer in the fourth. It was Davis’ second homer in two games.
“Chris has got a couple adjustments that he’s trying to make, and it’s looked good,” Showalter said. “He’s made adjustments all along. All hitters do. You have to. But he had a big blow for us.”
The Orioles’ defense, which has been a disappointment for much of the season, looked strong. The addition of second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who was playing his second game since returning from the DL, solidified the infield defense.
Even when Schoop faltered in the ninth, dropping Danny Valencia’s feed on what should’ve been a double play, reliever Brad Brach picked him up by retiring the next three hitters to nail down the save. Brach, who has struggled in the ninth inning dating back to last season, earned a little bit of redemption Wednesday.
So did the entire team.
“I think that’s big,” Cashner said. “I think for us, right now, it’s just win each day. That’s all we can do right now, and hopefully that’ll lead into some things.”
The well-played victory gave Showalter a sense of what the team is capable of — even if that ship has sailed.
“We think that every day, that today’s going to be the beginning of something special,” Showalter said. “I’ve been real proud of the guys and the way they’ve gone about it. They’re very supportive of each other, and so are the coaches. We’re in this together. Fans, everybody. We’ve got a stake in this. So, one game, it’s good to come in the clubhouse and have everybody feel good about themselves and shake hands and listen to some form of music that I have nothing to do with picking out.”
Bleier an All-Star?
The MLB All-Star game is still two months away, but it’s never too early to think about which player or players could represent the Orioles.
Manny Machado, obviously, is a lock — unless the Orioles trade him before the All-Star Break.
If they do, you can make a strong case that the next most deserving Oriole is Richard Bleier.
The 31-year-old lefty turned in another excellent performance Wednesday, throwing two scoreless innings. Bleier allowed a pair of hits, but erased both on double-play grounders. He earned the win in relief and is now 3-0 this season; all other Orioles pitchers are a combined 6-27.
“I think Rich has got a great feel for his sinker right now,” Cashner said. “It’s been impressive to watch him pitch. He’s got more confidence right now than I think I’ve ever seen him with.”
Bleier doesn’t throw a blazing fastball or put up eye-popping strikeout numbers. All he does is get batters out. Wednesday’s outing lowered his ERA to 0.40, the best mark in the majors for a pitcher with at least 20 innings logged.
If that’s not All-Star material, what is?
O’Day joins Orioles’ walking wounded
Because the Orioles didn’t already have enough things going wrong, they lost another prominent member of the club to injury. The Orioles placed reliever Darren O’Day on the 10-day DL, retroactive to May 6, with a hyperextended right elbow.
O’Day’s absence will create ripple effects throughout an already frayed bullpen. Entering Wednesday, his 3.77 ERA was the second-best behind Bleier among current Orioles relievers. While O’Day has had his struggles, particularly with the gopher ball — he’s allowed three homers in 14 1/3 innings — he’s generally one of the club’s more dependable hurlers.
With O’Day out, and Zach Britton still working his way back from offseason Achilles’ surgery, the club’s relief depth is even more depleted. Beyond Bleier, the Orioles don’t have many reliable relievers right now. Brach, despite Wednesday’s save, has a 5.02 ERA. Mychal Givens is at 3.79 but has had a few implosions. Others, including Miguel Castro, Mike Wright and Rule 5 righty Pedro Araujo, have struggled to find their footing. Someone will need to step up while O’Day is gone.
O’Day’s latest DL stint is his fourth in the last three seasons, adding to the string of health issues he’s suffered since signing a four-year deal to stay in Baltimore prior to the 2016 season. O’Day was once the model of durability, pitching at least 68 games in each of his first four seasons with the Orioles, but he missed more than three months in 2016 with a right hamstring strain and right shoulder strain. The latter injury cropped up again in 2017, sidelining O’Day for another two weeks.
When O’Day signed his contract with the Orioles two years ago, club Vice President Brady Anderson said the righty had a chance to set the franchise record for most career pitching appearances. That mark is currently held by Hall-of-Famer Jim Palmer (558). O’Day’s injuries have all but assured that won’t be the case — he currently has 384 appearances for the Orioles, with one year remaining on his contract after 2018.
Still, while O’Day probably won’t be atop the Orioles’ record books, the 35-year-old remains a valuable member of the bullpen. He won’t be easy to replace.