I’m heading over to Camden Yards to catch up with Ray Miller, who will be inducted into the Orioles’ Hall of Fame before tomorrow night’s game against the Chicago White Sox. It’s been years since I’ve seen him. I’m relieved that he’s in good health and enjoying his retirement.
Going back to how we’re all learning about manager Buck Showalter, I’m enjoying his thorough evaluation process this week. He’s not focused only on the obvious stuff - how a player is swinging the bat, how a pitcher is throwing. As he said yesterday, he’s also looking “off-ball,” whether players are backing up bases and hustling to get in position while the action is someplace else on the field, and while they’re unaware that he’s watching.
Last night, it seemed apparent that he wanted to get a better read on Corey Patterson. Was the veteran outfielder willing to lay down a sacrifice bunt in a critical juncture of the game, sacrificing his at-bat in the process, after collecting two hits earlier in the night?
Patterson wasn’t ordered to bunt. Instead, he was told to “do what you’ve got to do.”
“There’s some trust involved there, too,” Showalter said.
Patterson laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance pinch-runner Julio Lugo to third, and Cesar Izturis followed with the game-winning single against a drawn-in, five-man infield.
Showalter also let Jason Berken pitch the ninth after the right-hander blew a three-run lead in the eighth. He wanted to see how Berken responded to adversity, whether the young right-hander had the stomach to go back out and hold down the Angels. And that’s exactly what happened.
“I easily could have gone to somebody else there,” Showalter said, “but I told Kranny, ‘I want to see him pitch the next inning.’”
Showalter also pushed Jake Arrieta to 108 pitches, and through a jam that normally would have resulted in an earlier exit for the rookie. Again, he was testing the kid and learning more about him.
“I don’t know Jake as well as everybody else, but from my early impressions and listening to people talk, he’s probably as good a conditioned guy as we’ve got, which is very key in pitching this time of year,” Showalter said.
Of all the Showalter traits that have surfaced this week, this one might be the most impressive. Keep an open mind, challenge guys and find out which ones can be trusted to play the game right, to make the right decisions. Find out what they’re made of over these last two months.
That’s an evaluation process that runs much deeper than anything you’ll find in a stat sheet or in a box score.