Orioles' shortcomings on the mound have contributed to rocky defense - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Orioles’ shortcomings on the mound have contributed to rocky defense

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

The Orioles’ season is roughly 20 percent complete, and the rebuilt team has shown fans that the hard work is just beginning. After the team won four of its five games, they’ve recorded just seven victories, and entering tonight’s game against Tampa Bay are 11-21.

That record projected over a full season would put the Orioles at 56-106, an improvement over the 115-loss 2018 season, but miles from respectability.

Some fans hoped that an improvement in the team’s fundamentals would make them more enjoyable to watch, but that hasn’t been the case.

Teams that are bad are bad in part because they’re weak on fundamentals, and the Orioles’ awful pitching of the first fifth of the season has led to many of the fundamental breakdowns.

A year ago, the Orioles had baseball’s worst pitching with a 5.18 ERA. The starters had a 5.49 ERA, and the relievers had a 4.76 ERA.

This year’s starters have been slightly worse—a 5.54 ERA, but the relievers have a woeful 6.27 ERA to put the overall ERA at 5.89.

Manager Brandon Hyde has used seven starters, including Nate Karns, who twice served as an opener in an experiment that was quickly discarded.

Hyde has used 23 pitchers in relief, including a club record three position players — Hanser Alberto, Chris Davis and Jesus Sucre. Until last September, the Orioles had never used more than one position player as a pitcher in a season.

The Orioles began the season with 12 pitchers, but when the short starts quickly piled up, they went to 13 and reduced their bench from four to three.


They began the season with Rule 5 draft choice Drew Jackson serving in a utility role, but when they signed pitcher Dan Straily, Jackson was returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

One of the three bench players will always be a catcher, which leaves two players who must be versatile in reserve.

While Alberto and Stevie Wilkerson, who often comprise the bench players, have played a number of positions, the many errors and countless misplays can be attributed in large part to players not playing positions they’re used to.

Alberto and Wilkerson, who are both natural infielders and played little outfield, have been inserted in the outfield for the first time in the majors in recent days.

When the Orioles were able to add a 26th player for the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader, Anthony Santander was added, and it gave Hyde some temporary maneuverability in the outfield.

Santander isn’t a centerfielder, and neither is Alberto or Wilkerson. When the Orioles decided to send Cedric Mullins and his .094 batting average to Triple-A Norfolk, that left them without a true centerfielder.

Joey Rickard has been playing center since Mullins was sent down, weakening the overall outfield defense. Rickard is in a 1-for-22 drought and his average is just .183.

If Mullins continues to hit well at Norfolk, he could return. If Austin Hays, who injured his thumb sliding headfirst and is scheduled to play in extended spring games in Sarasota in the next several days, shows he’s healthy, he could join the Orioles at some point later.

The Orioles have already used 39 players and should easily surpass the 2018 team record of 56 players used. They could challenge the 2014 Texas Rangers, who used 64 players, a major league record.

This churning isn’t pointless. It’s general manager Mike Elias’ way of trying to find players who will be part of the new foundation.

The Orioles were known for their strong infield defense and exceptional relief pitching. Those areas fell sharply last year, and Elias spent much of the offseason and spring training trying to acquire better defensive infielders.

Richie Martin, another Rule 5 pick, has been strong defensively but has been overmatched at the plate. Since the Orioles don’t have a major league-ready middle infielder at Norfolk or Double-A Bowie, it’s Martin’s job for now, even with a .183 average and two RBIs.

There have been some solid showings by the bullpen, and Elias will keep trying to find better solutions. This week, he added right-hander Shawn Armstrong, who was picked up on waivers from Seattle.

When Armstrong came, Tanner Scott and his 6.75 ERA and astronomical 2.85 WHIP went to Norfolk.

Only one starter, Andrew Cashner, has completed seven innings, forcing Hyde to find relievers to cover the final four innings of most games.

Frederick native Branden Kline pitched two strong innings in Wednesday’s first game and picked up his first major league win. Mychal Givens has been erratic, but Hyde has little confidence in anyone else in the late innings.

Givens’ last two appearances, both saves, weren’t the typical ninth-inning closer roles. Against the Chicago White Sox on April 24, Givens worked two innings. In Wednesday’s first game of a doubleheader, Givens recorded the final four outs, and though Hyde wanted to use him in a winnable second game, he improvised, and paid for it.

Gabriel Ynoa had pitched three brilliant innings, the fifth, sixth and seventh, but Hyde didn’t want to extend him beyond that. He tried to get by with Evan Phillips, Paul Fry and Miguel Castro, but the Orioles lost on a two-out, two run single by Yonder Alonso against Castro. First baseman Chris Davis also made a misplay on a bunt in that inning, the last defensive mistake of many the Orioles made in the doubleheader.

If Elias and Hyde can find a dependable reliever or two, and the starters go deeper into games, perhaps the team can again have a four-man bench.

That’s unlikely for the time being, and while there’s a short bench, rocky fielding and fundamentals could continue, and more losses like Wednesday night’s might be coming.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB



  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    May 3, 2019 at 7:39 am

    So Rich, I take it by this article that you’re of the opinion that there’s not a lot of talent on this team?

    (and who are you calling naive?)

    • Rich Dubroff

      May 3, 2019 at 8:50 am

      Boog, I appreciate your faithful reading and commenting. Yes, there’s not much talent here, and I think many fans thought that defense could be quickly turned around and would lead to more improvement than we’ve seen so far.

  2. chico salmon

    May 3, 2019 at 7:55 am

    Excellent analysis, Rich. Spot on.

  3. TxBirdFan

    May 3, 2019 at 8:26 am

    Never thought I’d long for Mark Belanger’s bat at shortstop but he’d be an upgrade over Martin. Not sure why the poor pitching is a surprise to anyone. We had little talent at that position coming into the season and results are backing that up. Cashner has been a welcome surprise but Bundy and Cobb continue to badly disappoint.

    • Rich Dubroff

      May 3, 2019 at 8:49 am

      Tx, older Orioles fans often oversimplify Mark Belanger’s offensive shortcomings, but if you look at his career record, he had a 14.7 offensive WAR and an overall WAR of 40.9. That overall WAR was higher than Harold Baines’ and just a little lower than Lou Brock’s, who had 3,000 hits and was the career leader in stolen bases for many years.

      Belanger had a few good offensive seasons; unfortunately, I didn’t arrive in Baltimore until the tail end of his career, but he was a much finer and more valuable player than many believe.

    • TxBirdFan

      May 3, 2019 at 11:14 am

      Back in the day, Belanger’s bat was the weak one in a pretty good lineup. His BA always seem to hover around .225 but his defense was so good everyone overlooked that BA. Martin’s BA has stayed below the Mendoza line which makes the Blade look like a prolific hitter!

  4. Orial

    May 3, 2019 at 8:32 am

    Naive. Hmmm. Interesting. If Mullins played CF permanently(regardless) and Martin played SS permantly(regardless) things would be a little different. Damn the .100 BAs go for the defense. The more Hyde phinagles this roster the more it looks like the Beckham lead 2018 Orioles. Please keep Wilkerson,Alberto on the bench–get Mullins back in CF and while we’re at it tell Villar to get his head out of his butt. Wilkerson really irks me(Sunday softball?)

  5. Pete

    May 3, 2019 at 8:54 am

    Excellent recap Rich. It’s what was expected, shouldn’t be a shock to anyone. Hopefully fans will embrace the beginning of the rebuild and appreciate it that much more when the O’s are relevant again.


      May 3, 2019 at 9:34 am

      I (and I think many fans) will embrace a rebuild when we think players with real potential are on the roster. Not a bunch of AAAA duds. Both position players and pitchers.

    • Rich Dubroff

      May 3, 2019 at 10:02 am

      Thank you, Pete.

    • Rich Dubroff

      May 3, 2019 at 10:04 am

      Victor, I have pointed out that this year and next are likely to be continually challenging. There was little that could be done this year to add quality talent.

  6. SpinMaster

    May 3, 2019 at 9:01 am

    Rich: The saddest thing you mentioned in your article is that we “don’t have a major ready middle infielder.” You could probably add several more positions to that comment. As much as most of us have call D. D. some bad names, this current lack of major league position players really exposes our former player development personnel and explains why Elias got rid of the top of that system.

    • Rich Dubroff

      May 3, 2019 at 10:07 am

      Spin, you can fault many people for the lack of infielders in the high minors. However, there are prospects in every other position in the high minors. The paucity of infielders stand out.

    • Camden Brooks

      May 3, 2019 at 2:19 pm

      I think Mason McCoy is going to move up from Frederick and through the ranks quickly.

  7. Bancells Moustache

    May 3, 2019 at 10:11 am

    We’re watching a bunch of stopgaps. If any current player not named Mancini is still an Oriole in 2021 I’ll be shocked, and even he may very well be traded. Fortunately for the pitching, it’s the one area where the Orioles seem to have some talent coming through the system. Akin, Hall, Rodriguez, Sedlock, we might have something there. Certainly more than our much ballyhooed outfield prospects, none of whom looks like an impact player to me. Hays seems like a lunchpail type, Stewart and Mullins are AAAA guys and Diaz is just the guy they had to settle for because they couldn’t pry Verdugo from LA.

    Adley, we need you boy. Keep raking out there in Oregon.

    • Jbigle1

      May 3, 2019 at 11:42 am

      Well, we do have some potential arms but Cody sedlock isn’t one of them. He’s been atrocious since we drafted him but don’t let the early season bottom line results fool you he’s still been bad as a 24 year old in high A ball. Giving up 1.66 Hr/9 and walking nearly 4. His FIP and xFIP are north of 5. I’d be far more optimistic on Kremer and Lowther. I’d be surprised if sedlock is anything more than a mop up man.

      • Bancells Moustache

        May 3, 2019 at 12:02 pm

        I was just tossing names out, but I’m not ready to give up on Sedlock just yet. Lowther looks like he might have something. Whatever the case, arms on the farm seem like the one thing that isn’t a dumpster fire right now.

    • CalsPals

      May 3, 2019 at 3:48 pm

      I’ve been saying since the end of last yr, love to have the switch hitting catcher from OSU, hopefully they pick him….

  8. Puyerunner

    May 3, 2019 at 10:24 am

    If. You watch the play where Chris Davis fielded the bunt, looked to second, double clutched, and then threw to first, you will notice Villar doing the first baseman stretch wrong. He has his glove hand – left – extended and his right leg forward. Had he had his left leg forward’ that could have been enough to get the runner out. This is basic sandlot stuff. He should know.

    • Rich Dubroff

      May 3, 2019 at 10:33 am

      Right you are, Puyerunner.

  9. Hallbe62

    May 3, 2019 at 11:57 am

    Patience Bird fans. Patience.

    Or if you can’t spare any of that…….the Baltimore Brigade are playing some Arena Football tonight.

    They’re off to a good start. The league added 2 more teams (Columbus & Atlantic City). It’s a good entertaining product.

    Take a break from the O’s for a night and cheer on the Brigade.

    • BirdsCaps

      May 3, 2019 at 12:38 pm

      We’ll need something with the Caps early exit from the playoffs and the Ravens season 4 months away. Short season A starts in less than 2 months so I can still look forward to the Aberdeen season.

  10. BirdsCaps

    May 3, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    We knew this season was going to be a bust going in. Despite Elias’s best efforts, I do not see how any of these players are going to be good enough to build around (exceptions: Mancini and Villar). Alberto has been a pleasant surprise. Hopefully he can keep it up and doesn’t drop off like a lot of early season surprises do.

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