The defense doesn’t rest

During my phone-in segment yesterday on “The Mid-Atlantic Sports Report” on MASN - a delayed shameless plug - I was asked about shortstop J.J. Hardy’s overall value to the Orioles.

The 21 home runs immediately come to mind. He’s joined Cal Ripken Jr. and Miguel Tejada as the only Orioles shortstops with three straight seasons of 20-plus homers. You won’t find Kiko Garcia or Bob Bonner on that list.

However, anything that Hardy does offensively is gravy. Really good, thick gravy.

In my opinion, it’s the glove that makes him invaluable. It’s his consistency, his reliability, his leadership in the field.

Of course, I jinxed him yesterday. He was charged with an error against the Diamondbacks after fielding Didi Gregorius’ bouncer in the second inning and struggling to get the ball out of his glove. That one’s on me.

And yes, I do have that power. I’ve been lying all these years.

Manager Buck Showalter has pointed out how Hardy takes great pride in the team’s defense, not just his own. He’s aided Manny Machado’s transition to third base. He’s worked with countless double play partners and never seems out of rhythm. It would be easy to take him for granted.

I’m still blown away by the Orioles’ lowly error total this season, even after they committed two in the second inning last night - including one on Machado after he was incorrectly (in my opinion) called for obstruction. Seeing two from the Orioles in the same game, let alone the same inning, was like finding a unicorn or a virgin Kardashian.

They’ve now made 36 in 118 games. They were on pace for 47, 18 fewer than the Mariners’ record-setting total in 2003.

That’s not breaking a record, that’s destroying it. That’s obliterating it.

The Orioles led the majors with a .992 fielding percentage, which, if maintained through the entire season, would be the highest in baseball history, topping the 2007 Rockies’ .989 mark.

The Orioles have 89 errorless games this season. The Rays were second with 80 before last night.

It’s also mind-bending to consider that this defense, at least statistically, could be deemed as superior to the Orioles teams that I grew up watching.

I caught Brooks Robinson at the tail end of his career, but I’m fully aware that he won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves at third base. Shortstop Mark Belanger and center fielder Paul Blair each won eight Gold Gloves, second baseman Davey Johnson three in a row (1969-71), second baseman Bobby Grich four in a row (1973-76) and pitcher Jim Palmer four in a row (1976-79).

Frank Robinson won only one Gold Glove in right field, in 1958 with the Cincinnati Reds. I figured he had more hardware, considering his defensive reputation. He certainly was not a liability with the Orioles. Quite the contrary.

Also, Boog Powell was vastly underrated at first base - he jokes about Brooks owing him a few of those Gold Gloves - and Andy Etchebarren was solid behind the plate.

Is the 2013 unit really that much better? Do we now speak of Machado and Hardy the same way as Brooks and Belanger?

Way too soon. Machado is in his first full season at third. Hardy won his first Gold Glove last year. But they could be part of a record-setting team.

A record-obliterating team.

If we’re comparing, we can say without fear of contradiction that Nate McLouth is a better defensive left fielder than Don Buford. No offense to Buford, but he was known a lot more for his... offense. His leadoff skills.

As for tonight’s game, Miguel Gonzalez will make his 21st start of the season and his 12th on the road. So far, he’s 3-4 with a 3.68 ERA and eight quality starts away from home.

Gonzalez has never faced the Diamondbacks. The only hitter he’s faced is Cody Ross, who’s 0-for-6 with three strikeouts, but Ross went on the disabled list yesterday with a hip injury and will be lost for the rest of the season.

Diamondbacks starter Randall Delgado has faced the Orioles once before, back on June 17, 2012 while pitching for the Braves. He allowed only two runs and three hits in eight innings, with one walk and six strikeouts, and lost 2-0.

Wei-Yin Chen blanked Atlanta for seven innings, and four relievers completed the shutout.

Adam Jones was 2-for-3 with a double off Delgado.

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