ARLINGTON, Texas— Andrew Cashner went just 1 2/3 innings and allowed a career-high 10 runs. Orioles manager Buck Showalter knew that he might have to do something creative with his bullpen.
Needing 6 1/3 innings from relievers, Showalter hoped that nothing would go wrong. But Jhan Marinez, who pitched the fourth inning, injured a hamstring warming up for the fifth. Showalter needed to be inventive.
Danny Valencia approached Showalter in the dugout and volunteered.
“I was like, ‘hey Buck, I just want to let you know, if you need an inning, I got you. Don’t hesitate to ask,’” Valencia told him.
“Some guys don’t want to do it. Help the team, help the bullpen. I made it known early that I’d be willing to throw an inning, two innings if you need it.”
Showalter had used four relievers and when Tanner Scott reached 34 pitches, Valencia got the call.
With the Orioles trailing by 12 runs in the eighth, Texas had two on with two outs. Joey Gallo, who had hit his 27th home run in his previous at-bat, was coming up.
Valencia, who appeared to suppress a smile as he come out of the bullpen, struck out Gallo looking to end the inning. He had a spring to his step as he came off the mound, looking toward the dugout. His teammates high-fived him and slapped his back as if they had won a crucial September game instead of absorbing their 76th loss of the season.
“I was definitely not going 100 percent today,” said Valencia, whose fastball hit the low 90s. “There’s definitely more in the tank. Today, I was probably pitching around 80 percent.”
Showalter has used a position player to pitch just three times in his eight years as Orioles manager. On May 6, 2012, he used Chris Davis to pitch the final two innings of an improbable 17-inning win in Boston. On Aug. 20, 2016, Ryan Flaherty pitched an inning against Houston.
“I don’t like it all,” Showalter said. “I tried everything possible.”
Showalter said Mark Trumbo wanted to pitch, but Valencia, who pitched often in high school and occasionally at the University of Miami, was glad to get the call.
“It was pretty cool,” Valencia said. “I’ve always envisioned going out there on the mound, messing with the pitchers, telling them I hope I get a chance out there. Felt good. I practiced it a lot. Today was just another day, really.”
Valencia’s pitching was the most interesting part of the Orioles’ 17-8 loss.
“You always dream about doing that, but at the same time, Buck came out there and he said, ‘hey, you know, throw strikes,’” Valencia said.
“’Don’t try to overpower anybody,’ so I was just really trying to throw it over the plate, not really go max effort out there, just let it go nice and easy. My arm felt pretty good out there.”
Valencia wasn’t going to back down against Gallo.
“I’m thinking I’m trying to strike him out,” Valencia said. “Just me being competitive. I’m not one of those guys who just lob it over the plate and let them hit it. If he’s going to beat me, he’s going to beat me with my stuff.”
Now, Valencia has a major league strikeout.
“I have no-show innings. Now, I have a third, so that’s pretty much it.”
Jonathan Villar was 2-for-5 in his Orioles debut after he was acquired Tuesday from Milwaukee in the trade for Jonathan Schoop.
Villar, who led the major leagues in stolen bases with 62 in 2016, met with Showalter before the game to go over the steal signs.
“I love to run the bases,” Villar said. “If they need a steal, I can steal. That’s my game. I’m not scared to play baseball. I’m ready for everything. Whatever they need, I can do that.”
Showalter said he was fine with allowing Villar to be aggressive on the bases.
“What’s greener than green?” he said.
Fans with sharp recall might remember that Villar scored on a straight steal of home in Baltimore on July 30, 2013. It’s rare to see that, and it’s his only steal of home in the majors.
On third base, Villar looked to his manager, Bo Porter, who signaled that it was fine with him to try.
“I study for everything,” Villar said. “If they need me to steal home, I’ll do it.”
Villar had been on the disabled list because of a thumb injury and was eager to get back on the field.
Showalter wouldn’t commit to Villar’s playing second every day.
“I’m not going to open the door and say regardless of what happens, this guy is going to be there every day,” Showalter said. “We’ve got some other people we want to look at, too. We’ll see if he’ll take advantage of the opportunity he’ll be given.”
Villar was the 10th leadoff hitter for the Orioles. Showalter dropped Tim Beckham, who had been hitting at the top of order, to second. He’d prefer an everyday leadoff guy.
“I’d love to have someone evolve into that,” Showalter said.
Givens the bullpen leader
With the trades of Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens, who’s been a major leaguer for just over three years, is the most senior of the relievers.
Besides Givens, the bullpen is comprised of Marinez, who is 30 but new to the Orioles; Donnie Hart, who has pitched part of three seasons with the Orioles; Mike Wright, who is in his first full season with the team and as a reliever; Miguel Castro, in his second season; and three rookies, Scott, Cody Carroll and Paul Fry.
Givens is prepared to mentor the younger relievers.
“I was grateful to have those guys, Darren, Zach and Brad to influence me, to be prepared for a situation like this, how to be a bullpen guy and to teach guys that were coming up,” Givens said.
“Darren and Zach and Brad were leaders as far as how to be a bullpen guy, what’s expected out of you … trying to [strand] inherited runners, stop the damage, stop the bleeding, try to give us a chance to get back in the dugout and let the offense go. There’s a bunch of stuff, a lot to soak in. They taught me really well and pass it on to the younger guys.”
The O’Day trade came as a surprise because he had season-ending hamstring surgery last month.
“Didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Darren because he’s our leader in the bullpen, but I got to learn a lot from him,” Givens said. “Being around him put me in the best position [along with] Zach Britton and Brad [Brach]. I wish the best for them. They’re in a good spot. At the same time, they passed the torch to me, and [I’ll] try to be a leader now.”
Unlike Schoop and Kevin Gausman, who were in the clubhouse when they were traded, O’Day wasn’t. That made it difficult for Givens to process.
“It actually was because I didn’t really get to hear that Darren was traded [until] after the fact, when it started getting put on social media,” Givens said.
“It was a surprise, but I know he has a place in Atlanta. I just wish the best for him and his family and for him to get healthy.”
The Orioles haven’t had a save situation since Britton was traded. Brach saved the final game Britton spent with the club. It’s unclear whether Givens will get a chance to closer regularly.
“Right now, I’m just focused on trying to get guys out,” Givens said. “That’s what I’m happy about, not worried about a situation like that. I’m just worried about us making a change. In the second half, we’ve been scoring a lot of runs and pitching really well, trying to look forward to finishing this season off pretty strongly and rebuild for next year.”
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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