WASHINGTON - Signs that your starter is struggling in the first inning include a pitch count that reaches 41 and a phone call to the bullpen that causes Ubaldo Jiménez to remove his jacket and grab his glove.
It happened tonight at Nationals Park, where the Orioles’ collective mood matched a blue sky earlier in the day that kept the tarp off the field and lessened the chances of another random postponement.
The Orioles really could have used the break. Their third baseman was nursing a sore wrist and hand, their center fielder was resting his sore legs, their first baseman moved across the diamond for the first time in three years and Alec Asher didn’t know whether he had stumbled into a baseball game or a track meet.
The Nationals built a sizable early lead while Asher kept groping for his command and the Orioles absorbed a 6-1 loss before an announced crowd of 37,833.
Asher allowed five runs and seven hits in four innings, with four walks and six strikeouts. He also was on the mound for five stolen bases in the first three innings, including a career-high three for Trea Turner.
Asher and Wade Miley combined to work 6 2/3 innings the past two nights.
Meanwhile, the much-maligned Joe Ross put in a surprise bid for Cy Young Award by holding the Orioles to one run and four hits, walking none and striking out 12 in 7 1/3 innings. Joey Rickard broke up the shutout bid with a two-out RBI single in the seventh.
The Nationals sent nine batters to the plate in the first and led 4-0, with Bryce Harper and Stephen Drew contributing RBI singles and Michael A. Taylor delivering a two-run double. They saw 41 pitches from Asher.
Adam Lind lifted a sacrifice fly in the second after Turner and Bryce Harper executed a double steal. Turner’s three steals came in two innings, the first following a four-pitch walk.
Taylor swiped second base in the third inning after reaching on a fielder’s choice. The Nats offered to set up hurdles on the base paths to create more of a challenge, but the call was overturned.
But seriously ...
The record for steals against the Orioles is eight on Sept. 27, 1965 against Kansas City and Aug. 1, 1998 in Kansas City.
Jiménez sat down after the first inning, which ended with Ross taking a called third strike. Ross did the same to end the third on Asher’s 83rd pitch of the night.
Ross was much better on the mound. And few people have uttered those words.
Ross retired 17 of the first 18 batters, with Mark Trumbo dumping a single into right field with two outs in the first inning. He struck out the side in the second and fifth innings and had a career-high 12 by the sixth.
Same guy who had a 7.34 ERA before tonight.
Seth Smith registered the Orioles’ second hit with a two-out single in the sixth inning, but he was stranded. Trumbo led off the seventh with a double and scored on Rickard’s single.
Jiménez warmed again in the fourth after Turner’s leadoff single. Turner was forced at second, ending his run of steals. Harper doubled to left field on a check swing against the shift to put two in scoring position with one out, but Lind and Matt Wieters struck out.
Asher had reached 100 pitches. Jiménez sat down, then began to warm again in the top of the fifth.
Jiménez entered the game in the bottom half and his second pitch, to Drew, landed in the second deck in right field to give Washington a 6-0 lead. The night just wasn’t going to get any better for the Orioles other than avoiding a shutout.
Jiménez retired nine of the next 10 batters, with Trumbo’s fielding error allowing Wieters to reach. He struck out five.
The loss lowered the Orioles’ record to 31-27 overall and 10-17 on the road. They’ve got three games in New York and four in Chicago. They’ve got to get a better start out of Dylan Bundy on Friday night at Yankee Stadium.
Manny Machado updating his hand/wrist: “I’m just seeing how I respond tomorrow. It’s day by day. Tonight it’s feeling a little better than I was last night. Hopefully, it’s like that tomorrow. This is the type of injury you have to see how it goes and time will only tell.”
Machado on whether it’s more wrist or hand: “I think it’s a little both. It’s kind of in between, so it’s kind of sore in a tender spot, a little weird spot right in between them. It’s even hard to move it up and down. But like I said, it’s just, time will tell how I’ll heal from it. The good thing is that it’s feeling a lot better today than it was yesterday.”
Machado on whether he thinks he can avoid DL: “You know what? He got me pretty good. I’m pretty sore. I haven’t been this sore in a long time. Hopefully, I can wake up tomorrow and it’s
gone and be able to play this weekend. But we’ve just got to see how it is. Hopefully, it gets better. It’s been getting better, so I kind of told the trainers yesterday, it wasn’t looking good last night. It
just kept getting worse as the night went on, and I woke up this morning and it was a lot better.
“Hopefully, it’s healing quickly and I can get that bruise out of there.”
Machado on what happened to make him leave game in fourth: “I thought I could stay in. I felt sore, obviously. I just got hit. I was a little sore, but I tried to stay in there. I tried to grind it
out, and once I went to go pick up a bat, I took a swing in the cage and I felt fine. Then the next inning, I went back out there and I just felt it getting tight on me. I wasn’t able to pick up a bat.
“I’m not going to harm the team. I’m not going to go up there and struggle when someone else can come in and take my place and do something better than what I can that day.”
Machado on whether wrist is still sore from opening day: “This is just the impact. I think it’s more impact than anything else. I’m not really sure. I can’t read no MRI, but it’s just something that’s just bruised up. It caught me in a good spot, right in between the wrist and the hand. That’s just something that we’re going to have to see how it plays out.”
Machado on whether he heard from Andrew McCutchen: “He told me once I fell down, he went over and told me, ‘My bad.’ I know he didn’t mean to do it, but it’s just part of the game. This is how we play. We play hard, we go out there and I was joking around that if Caleb (Joseph) didn’t make a good throw, this wouldn’t have happened. It was just an unfortunate play that just happened how it is.
“He tapped me and he said, ‘Sorry,’ and we went about our business.”
Manager Buck Showalter on Asher: “Just command early. He got a little better but then his pitch count was so high. There were what, 26 strikeouts tonight? Seems like everyone throws 95-100 nowadays. I thought Ash’s stuff was pretty good. He finally started using the curveball a little bit more. But a lot of counts not in his favor and he got ambushed a little bit in the first inning and it didn’t look like we were going to mount much.”
Showalter on Ross: “I’m not going to take anything away from the young man. Evidently, obviously he had a good night statistically and I’m going to leave it at that. I’m not going to start trying to take something away from a young man’s good outing. I’m sure he’s capable of that and they think a lot of him.”
Showalter on whether his team is tired: “You could ask them, too. We’ve had two extra-inning games and you jump up and get on a bus just like they get on a plane to cross the country. Usually, it boils down to the only people that get normal rest, and that’s the two starting pitchers. It usually boils down to whose starting pitcher pitches well.”
Showalter on the mental effect of losing the off-day: “They’re professionals. It’s part of the gig and if don’t understand it, I know our guys do. That’s why every chance you get to play a game that might get called off, you play it because you know you pay the piper down the road. There’s (repercussions) from everything. You get short starts from your starter, it affects everything. You get rain outs, it affects doubleheaders. That’s one of the advantages that teams with roofs have. They never play a doubleheader at home.
“There’s point-counterpoint on all of it. It’s a sport where it doesn’t affect you that night, you pay the piper down the road. And that’s true for both teams. The one guy that’s got normal rest is the pitchers, so usually whose starting pitcher pitches the best comes out ahead.”
Showalter on Jones and Machado: “Jonesy, those last two games. I was talking about cause and effect, it takes a toll on you. So, talking to him, I and we thought it was best that we give him a day. We’ll see what tomorrow brings, we’ll see if tonight was enough. A little bit better turnaround. This was like playing a day game after a night game today after that.
“Manny is the old day-to-day, but he told Richie (Bancells) this morning that he wasn’t as sore as expected to be. He does have a little wrist soreness there actually from the lick there. We’ll see where it is tomorrow. I think it’s too early to project what the next couple of days are going to bring. I’m hoping we get in tomorrow and Manny and Adam are back in there. But if they’re not healthy enough, I feel like, they’ll sit again.”
Asher on first inning: “You know, I think my command got away from me a little bit. You know, I fell behind a lot of hitters and balls just started finding holes.”
Asher on impact of 41-pitch inning: “It’s tough. You never want to throw that many pitches in one inning. You never want to give up four runs in an inning. You just kind of try to clean the slate and move forward.”
Asher on what was different tonight: “I think just command issues a little bit. Just falling behind a lot of guys. Like I said, balls found holes and it’s tough to stop momentum like that.”
Asher on needing to find consistency: “You know, just trust the process and go about our business and your game plan. Trust that you’re good enough to make pitches and get guys out.”
Asher on impact of running game: “It’s frustrating. I don’t know the exact stats, but I don’t know if I’ve had a steal attempt on me all year. It was different, but, you know, it’s something I got to be better at.”