In early tests, 2019 Orioles proving better than expected - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

In early tests, 2019 Orioles proving better than expected

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

In the first four games of the 2019 season, the Orioles have already done two things they failed to do all last season. They’ve won three games in succession on the road, and they’re two games over .500.

In all of 2018, the Orioles had just three winning streaks of three games or more. Each was at home. Tonight, the Orioles will attempt to equal their longest winning streak of 2018, four games. They haven’t won four road games on successive days since September 7-10, 2014.

When the Orioles began the season with three games each in New York and Toronto, fans hoped they’d come home with a win or two. Even if they lose the final two games against the Blue Jays, they’ll return for the Thursday home opener with a record no worse than .500.

This fascinating case study in how to rebuild a ballclub has featured twists and turns in each of the three wins. From the use of an opener to the relievers and the ever-changing lineups, the Orioles have kept even their closest observers guessing.

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Led by Brandon Hyde, a most appealing manager who’s disarmed onlookers with his honesty, optimism and the sheer enjoyment with which he’s undertaken this difficult assignment, the team has responded.

There was David Hess, who in the middle of spring training was shelled for nine runs on nine hits, including four home runs in just 2 2/3 innings against Minnesota. Seventeen days later, Hess pitched 6 1/3 hitless innings against Toronto before reaching his pitch count.

Surprised by his removal, Hess had to watch a succession of relievers nearly cough up the six-run lead before the Orioles escaped with a 6-5 win.

Hyde relieved Hess with Pedro Araujo, the only player not used in the first three games, and with the Orioles only because he needs 17 days at the start of this season to fulfill his Rule 5 obligations. He quickly gave up a two-run home run, but in the end, Richard Bleier, who had a nightmarish ninth inning on Saturday in Yankee Stadium, hung on for his first career save.

In three days, the Orioles have three saves, and Mychal Givens, the presumed closer has none. Mike Wright, Paul Fry and Bleier have each recorded saves.

The Orioles will be tested nightly. They’re playing in a difficult division and are short on talent, but the hope was with better coaching and useful analytics, some of those who disappointed last year could improve this year.

While Hyde and general manager Mike Elias won’t be specific about the information that’s being shared with the players, they are being honest about their own shortcomings and the weaknesses of the team.

Even after seven weeks of being around Trey Mancini, Hyde acknowledges he’s just getting to know Mancini—and the other Orioles, too.

Elias cautioned against unrealistic expectations for the team last week.

“We’re doing things the right way,” he said. “The way that they need to be done. The end goal here is not to cobble together a one-year wonder, .500 club that could be a disaster if it doesn’t work right and we spend a few years digging out of that hole.

“We want to put together a perennial contending organization. And we’re initiating that process. We know how to do it. We’re going about it the way you need to go about it. In the meantime, there’s going to be young talent on the field. They’re going to be hustling, playing hard.”

The Orioles are hustling and playing hard, and that’s a major part of the allure of the team. It’s likely that they’ll be playing before small crowds, perhaps the smallest paying crowds in the 27-year history of Camden Yards, but those on hand will be witness to Elias’ laboratory, a place where outfielders are given cards instructing them where to play hitters, and the nightly evolution of a team.

Over the winter, some fans expressed disappointment that the Orioles hadn’t moved quickly enough to turn over the team, but with Richie Martin, Rio Ruiz and Jesus Sucre playing key roles, that argument probably won’t be heard for a while.

Many were disappointed that catcher Chance Sisco is beginning 2019 with Triple-A Norfolk, but with Sucre’s early play, that clamoring will die down, too.

The Orioles will have many rough stretches this season, and they’re unlikely to finish anywhere close to .500, but you’d have to be delusional if you failed to recognize that this team’s attitude is perkier than it was in 2018.

While Martin, Ruiz, Sucre and some others are new to the team, the bulk of the roster is made up of players who lost 115 games a year ago.

There will be players coming and going this season, but the ones who are on hand might provide better entertainment than anyone could have predicted in 2019.

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Grand Strand Bird Fan

    April 2, 2019 at 8:03 am

    Hess pitched great – one of the best performances in a couple of years by an Orioles pitcher. His fastball was 94-95 with a lot of movement. If it wasn’t for Richie Martin’s play in the 9th it would have been a deflating loss.

    Hyde mismanaged the bullpen imo. Bleier was being hit hard in the 9th. He didn’t get Castro up until Hernandez tripled. – representing the tying run. Fortunately, he ended the with a strikeout. Whew!

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      April 2, 2019 at 8:23 am

      Martin also should have made the “bermuda triangle” catch in the 9th. The ball was in his glove. He makes that catch, and the 9th is a LOT less suspenseful.

    • Grand Strand Bird Fan

      April 2, 2019 at 9:59 am

      Actually it was Villar not Martin that dropped the ball on a tough play.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        April 2, 2019 at 10:41 am

        Really? I could have sworn it was Martin. But I’ll take your word for it, and stand corrected.

    • Raymo

      April 2, 2019 at 8:19 pm

      Gary Thorne said it was Martin, but then Mike Bordick corrected him.

  2. Boog Robinson Robinson

    April 2, 2019 at 8:09 am

    I’ve loved watching the pups so far. 3 stolen bases in 4 games?!? Wow … I think I’ve even saw Villar atempt a bunt … or at least threaten to bunt once. Loved watching Hess last night. I was disappointed when he was taken out with the no-hitter going on, but that was probably the right call at this point in the season. Haven’t missed Machado in the least.

    Anyway … other than disagreeing with Elias regarding a couple of his personnel decisions, I have no complaints so far .. certainly not with the results anyway. Go Os!!

  3. Orial

    April 2, 2019 at 8:40 am

    Other than Hyde’s atrocious decision on Hess last night he has rallied a young conglomerate of troops into a full speed ahead style of team. Defense at 3rd and SS are the first things that stand out followed by the aggressive baserunning approach(ask Yankee Sanchez) on the base paths. Where he has to be careful is his handling of the the bullpen. My advice to him is–don’t get too cute,this is a limited roster. If,like last night,things are working leave it alone.

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 2, 2019 at 9:48 am

      Orial, whether the bullpen performed well or not, Hyde made the right decision. It was Hess’ first start of the season. He had pitched two innings on Opening Day.

      • Jbigle1

        April 3, 2019 at 1:44 pm

        Hyde’s poor decision was bringing in araujo the HR machine.

    • Camden Brooks

      April 2, 2019 at 2:05 pm

      100% correct decision. A possible no-hitter is cool, but it is still only 1 win, and not worth the potential to jack up his arm.

  4. CalsPals

    April 2, 2019 at 10:01 am

    Can’t get too fancy w/bullpen, Arajuo (sp), looked very questionable, again, couple of minor league guys I’d rather see than him….overall, hope were not using all our mojo this early, been fun to watch, especially running bases…. Crash looked like crash….only real negative….

  5. willmiranda

    April 2, 2019 at 10:25 am

    With all due respect, Rich, it was the wrong decision. A chance at a no-no is is a once-in-a-lifetime or never-in-a-lifetime opportunity. None of your analytics predicts them, and the opportunity shouldn’t be thrown away unless the game might be lost. The odds are high that Hess would have given up a hit eventually; plenty of time to pull him then, still with a good lead. If not, history would be made. It was totally revolting and insulting to terminate such an effort with a Rule 5 hanger-on. Full disclosure: I’m an Araujo fan and hope he develops, but finishing a no-no is far beyond his present abilities. If Hess would have needed a few days off or to miss a turn to rest his arm, little would have been lost. If his arm was so precarious that a dozen or so extra pitches would have caused permanent injury, then pulling him doesn’t solve the problem. No-hitters are part of the romance of baseball, partly because they are unpredictable –ask Don Larsen– and to be treasured, especially by teams with few other celebrations. The New Bosses are obsessed with telling us they’re always doing “the right thing.” When they do the wrong thing, they should own up to it.

    • moeknowsos1969

      April 2, 2019 at 11:18 am

      I agree. Not everything about Analytics, or that comes out of Hyde’s or Elias mouths are gonna be gospel. They will do things wrong no matter how they spin or then press covers for them. You let Hess go until he gives up that hit. You don’t go to the bullpen, which was taxed, early. We got away with one. Analytics aren’t everything in baseball. Talking to your players and intuition also play a huge part. Whith analytics, your gonna see the same thing as you see in hockey. Robotic players, all doing the same thing and leaving creativity out. Don’t believe me, watch the Wayne Gretzky interview. Better players, no creativity. That will be why no one will touch his numbers.

    • Orial

      April 2, 2019 at 11:36 am

      Agree. A “once in a lifetime” chance. I guess I’m old school.

    • Bhoffman1

      April 2, 2019 at 2:51 pm

      Agree 100
      Per cent except I’m not a fan of Arujo. There are many better arms in Norfolk. Maybe he will develop but he definitely is not ready yet.

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 2, 2019 at 3:21 pm

      If this decision came in June, I might disagree. It’s a young starter on April 1st. Right decision every time.

  6. Hallbe62

    April 2, 2019 at 11:04 am

    Pleasantly surprised and loving every minute of it.

  7. PA Bird Lover

    April 2, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    Rich, your last paragraph sums it up. Already I feel their enthusiasm while in my Lazy Boy recliner. They seem to run faster, even diving for a fly ball seems more intent. Sure it’s less than a half dozen games, but their attitude is somehow different than last year. That’s a good thing, too.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      April 2, 2019 at 2:06 pm

      The problem with that logic is that I’m sure last years team did not have the beaten down attitude after only 4 games. Let’s see where this team’s spirit and enthusiam sits after being out of 1st place by 20 games. Now after saying all that, and with any luck, I’m hoping we won’t have to as they keep playing decent ball.

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 2, 2019 at 3:23 pm

      PA, the atmosphere around last year’s club was negative. That is gone. I don’t expect them to contend, but I
      expect them to find a few players who can help down the road.

  8. Bancells Moustache

    April 2, 2019 at 2:29 pm

    I’m piling on here, but on what planet is pulling a young arm from a no-hit bid at 80 pitches, and then watching a bad bullpen nearly give away the store the right decision? Hess arm may as well still have that new-car smell, and what are we saving him for anyway, a playoff run? I like the energy of this team, it’s very different from the buttoned down Showalter gang, but that decision last night? To quote Tom Hanks in ‘Apollo 13’ “this is flight surgeon horses**t!”

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 2, 2019 at 3:25 pm

      Too early in the season to extend a starter who’d already worked on Opening Day, Bancells. If the decision was made on June 1, perhaps the decision is incorrect.

  9. BirdsCaps

    April 2, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    The birds are actually fun to watch, which is a pleasant surprise. If the winning keeps up, I tend to share the same fears as Elias, that it will be detrimental in building a long-term contender. If they do (miraculously) continue to overperform I would imagine that the birds would have to trade or demote players in order to encourage losing? Following Elias’s comments to their logical conclusion could look like the movie Major League, where the owner is selling the team jet and destroying the locker room in order to decrease team morale and performance. However, more than likely the birds live up to their lowly expectations and tank to get a top pick in the ’20 draft.

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 2, 2019 at 3:27 pm

      BirdsCaps, I think the plan is to trade players with a market later in the season. I believe they know the talent level here, and while it’s better, it’s not as good as they want it to be.

  10. Bhoffman1

    April 2, 2019 at 2:48 pm

    Really Rich after 81 pitches . Hess smile and disbelief said it all. Look everything so far is leaps and bounds over last year. Hyde is a rookie and so far has had beginners luck. I hope it continues. Arujo or whatever his name is should not be on this team. I know he will be sent down in 17 days but he has shown nothing and is just here because we what to hold on to a extra body. Bottom half of order 7,8and 9 look like sure outs. I can take Martin not hitting but not a slow catcher who should be a backup and of course Crash befuddled Davis who I hear Las Vegas is giving 2 to 1 odds he doesn’t hit over 150 this year. That’s if he ever actually gets a hit

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 2, 2019 at 3:30 pm

      No starter wants to leave a game when they’re throwing a no-hitter, Bruce. But, Hyde is trying to build up Hess’ arm. Had he not worked Opening Day, he could have perhaps gone to 100, but it’s too early to
      extend a starter—even with a no-hitter.

      • Tony Paparella

        April 2, 2019 at 4:54 pm

        In defense of the infielder the two outfielders most likely spooked him. Same in reverse the other nite when Martin most likely spooked Rickard from making the catch because of the possibility of a collision.

      • Tony Paparella

        April 2, 2019 at 5:07 pm

        I agree with Rich due to the fact it is so early in the season.Not one starter was allowed to complete a game this early or even get to the 8th inning as far as I know.Thus why would you extend this guy just because he has a possibility of a no hitter? You go much further with it (I would say 7 innings is the max) then Hyde would be putting himself and Hess in unchartered waters in my opinion and setting themselves up for real dissertation .Did not like bringing in Araujo myself but same as the other nite when he brought in Wright I disagreed. However it seems to me that Hyde has no problem throwing guys into the fire in order to see if they can handle the situations.I am a little surprised at a couple of his moves in later innings but so far he is coming out smelling good though things could have easily gone the other way.

    • Bhoffman1

      April 2, 2019 at 5:49 pm

      No starter wants to leave a game when they are throwing a shutout and are cruising along but a no hitter is something else especially with a low pitch count. Yes Evoldi was removed after six innings last year with a no hitter but he was coming off TJ surgery. Another 20 pitches or so mean nothing to his arm in the long run. Anyway the way he threw is encouraging.

  11. willmiranda

    April 2, 2019 at 7:46 pm

    The arguments for yanking Hess might be more persuasive if he had not been sent out to start the seventh inning. That would at least have hinted at a plan to restrict his innings or pitch count. But to send him out to throw a few more pitches makes no sense in a scenario to protect his arm. The first pitches create the most stress. Assuming the arm protection argument, pulling him after giving up a hit makes sense. Pulling him after one batter indicates to me a lack of awareness of an unexpected situation by a rookie manager. Who woulda thunk the O’s would have a pitcher chasing immortality the first week of the season? I sure hope that if Trey Mancini hits homers in his first three at bats, the manager doesn’t pinch hit with Joey Rickard because he wants a righty-lefty matchup the fourth time around.

  12. PC in OC

    April 2, 2019 at 9:53 pm

    We need to get Chris Davis, hitting again. The way the Orioles are playing right now and getting Chris back on track, the Orioles could be, the surprise team of the year. I’m not joking, When I ask, Has Hyde or Elias, ever considered, having Chris’s Eyes Checked!

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 2, 2019 at 11:17 pm

      Every player’s eyes are checked as part of their physical before they’re allowed to take the field for spring training, PC. I believe Chris wears contact lenses.

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