So is the honeymoon period over for manager Buck Showalter?
I’ve never seen him second-guessed to this extent since he was named manager Aug. 2. It was bound to happen. Earl Weaver would have been questioned and criticized during the blog and Twitter era. That’s all part of the game.
I don’t think anyone is jumping off the Showalter bandwagon, but he made two decisions last night that clearly irked readers of this blog. (And I’m trying to remember the last time I used the word “irked.”)
Showalter won’t officially name a closer. You know his philosophy on it. But Kevin Gregg has gotten the save opportunities, and he’s warmed up during another one before the Orioles tacked on a run. He’s clearly the closer. And you don’t usually switch closers in Game 11.
We’re not talking Michael Gonzalez last season. Gregg hasn’t been hurt and he hasn’t been a disaster. He was the guy to take the ball with a one-run lead in the ninth inning. It just didn’t work out.
How much longer he takes the ball is another debate, but again, we’re only two weeks into the season. Exactly two Fridays ago, I was waking up in St. Petersburg, Fla., and preparing for the season opener against the Rays. It might be a tad early for full-blown closer panic, but Gregg will need to drop the dramatics quickly or Showalter will have to reconsider the late-inning arrangement.
Koji Uehara warmed up in the eighth, so he was available. He can’t go back-to-back games, but he can get back up and pitch. However, Showalter explained to reporters after the game that he used Gonzalez in the 10th to force Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher to bat right-handed and put the left-handed hitting Robinson Cano in an unfavorable matchup.
You’ll recall that Rodriguez and Swisher hit game-winning home runs off Uehara last season, if that matters.
Uehara wasn’t going to close last night, and he wasn’t going to pitch the 10th.
He could emerge as the closer later this season. Heck, it could be later this month. But the fact that he can’t pitch back-to-back games, at least for a while, is a hindrance.
Uehara only has so many bullets left. He knows it, and that’s why he doesn’t throw many warmup pitches before entering a game. The Orioles are trying to get him through the season without another stop or two on the disabled list.
They were glad to shut him down in spring training and allow him to receive the cortisone injection in his elbow. It felt more like a stall tactic than a medical procedure.
Save those bullets.
As for the other controversy, it’s too risky for Gonzalez to intentionally walk batters to load the bases and set up a double play or force at home. Showalter could have done it, but then he’d be gambling that Gonzalez wouldn’t issue an unintentional walk. That’s how the leadoff batter reached base and eventually scored.
The beat reporters have often marveled at how every Showalter move seems to work. One of our favorite examples: He pulls Jason Berken against the Rays after the right-hander strikes out the side, and Jim Johnson tosses a scoreless inning. Another manager does the same thing - and I’ll use Dave Trembley as an example - and you just know J.J. is going to give up a run and fans will be livid.
Last night was a second-guesser’s delight. Too bad it didn’t leave us with a good feeling.