The Orioles’ fourth straight victory, which equals their high-water mark in 2018, illustrated three ways the team has shown improvement in the season’s first week.
Andrew Cashner, who allowed six runs on six hits in just four innings on Opening Day, was much sharper in his second start, pitching six scoreless innings in the Orioles’ 2-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.
Cashner has been reunited with Doug Brocail, his pitching coach with the Texas Rangers in 2017. That was the year Cashner had a 3.40 ERA and earned a two-year contract with the Orioles.
Cashner, Dylan Bundy and Alex Cobb, who will start Thursday’s home opener, had disappointing seasons in 2018. Brocail’s steady hand and tough love could help all of them.
From 2010-18, the Orioles had six pitching coaches, and Bundy has already had four.
While pitchers are unlikely to complain publicly about the mixed messages received from multiple pitching coaches, it has to be confusing. The Orioles are counting on Brocail to bring stability and a unified approach throughout the organization.
Another early dividend are the contributions from those who have been added to the club.
Dwight Smith Jr., who was acquired from the Blue Jays on March 9, has been invaluable in the season’s first five games.
The 26-year-old had played just 47 major league games over the past two seasons with Toronto. He produced good numbers — a .293 batting average, .365 on-base percentage and .463 slugging percentage — but was cast asside last month when the Blue Jays needed roster space.
Smith has hit in each of the Orioles’ first five games, and has a .350 average.
General manager Mike Elias saw something in Smith that convinced him he could play every day.
The other early trend is putting players in different roles.
Miguel Castro, who became the fourth different pitcher to earn a save this season, was used as the closer by manager Brandon Hyde in Tuesday night’s win.
Last spring training, the Orioles decided to try Castro as a starter. Former manager Buck Showalter was enamored with his arm and thought that Castro could be a force. However, when Cobb was signed as a free agent in March 2018, Castro went back to the bullpen.
He did start the game before the All-Star break, but that was because Showalter was out of starters. Showalter labeled it a bullpen game instead of the opener concept.
Castro has had decent numbers with the Orioles, producing a 3.72 ERA in three seasons. He began his major league career with Toronto. As a 21-year-old reliever with the Blue Jays in 2015, he recorded the only four saves of his major league career — until Tuesday night.
Rowdy Tellez homered against Castro, but seeing the 24-year-old right-hander as a closer could be a sign of things to come. On the other hand, it could simply mean that the next time Castro pitches, it will be in a different role.
Wednesday afternoon, Nate Karns will be back in the opener role for the Orioles as they go for a sweep. Cashner’s six innings gave the Orioles’ bullpen just three innings to cover on Tuesday, which should help in the series finale.
With Mychal Givens, the assumed closer, yet to record a save, it’s likely that he’ll pitch in crucial situations if not necessarily in save situations. However, Hyde has been unpredictable in his bullpen use and as long as that’s successful, he’ll probably stick with it.