Competing and evaluating in the season’s final week

The Orioles are down to the last five games. Where’s their focus?

Wins still matter, no matter how the standings read. Don’t try to sell them on the notion that 80-82 and 75-87 are the same in the grand scheme. That third place is insignificant if it doesn’t come with an invitation to the wild card game.

The latest nosedive, with only four wins in 18 games, does present an opportunity to evaluate a few of the younger players before the final goodbyes. Austin Hays stays in the lineup, of course, and Chance Sisco’s appearance on Sunday likely will be repeated. The timing of it, less than 24 hours after wild card elimination, wasn’t by accident.

Santander-Runs-White-Sidebar.jpgRule 5 pick Anthony Santander has received only 17 at-bats and no starts since Aug. 19 while a couple of regulars were unavailable. His chances of playing again increase if Adam Jones is shut down or has his innings limited due to leg soreness. Hays could move to center field and open right for Santander.

This is the balancing act that manager Buck Showalter must perform, beginning with tonight’s series opener in Pittsburgh. Try to put your best foot forward and also provide valuable experience for the kids who need it.

Showalter isn’t thrilled with an interleague series in late September, though the lack of playoff implications could make it slightly more tolerable. Plus, there’s the unbridled joy of watching Gabriel Ynoa’s fourth career major league at-bat.

The reviews on his batting practice sessions won’t prompt a change in positions. The hope is that he can get down a bunt without losing a finger. Or take three pitches without losing a finger.

Showalter chose to pair Ynoa with the Pirates instead of the Rays, who managed only one run against the right-hander over eight innings in Thursday night’s game at Camden Yards. There’s logic on both sides.

It makes sense to have Ynoa face another new opponent, the unfamiliarity perhaps working in his favor. There’s a theory that he ambushed the Rays and might not be as effective in a rematch.

However, it might give the Orioles a more accurate read on Ynoa if he can repeat his success less than a week later. Remove the ambush theory.

Showalter is in the process of trying to fill out the rotation through the weekend. Dylan Bundy is done for the year with his 169 2/3 innings exceeding his rookie total by 60. Kevin Gausman will be shut down after tonight’s outing. Miguel Castro is expected to stay in the bullpen due to the combined 87 1/3 innings that he’s worked with the Orioles and Double-A Bowie Baysox.

Chris Tillman is an option to make one more start after throwing 64 pitches in four innings Sunday afternoon as Bundy’s replacement.

Ubaldo Jimenez Orange day.jpgUbaldo Jiménez’s final game at Camden Yards as an Oriole didn’t necessarily translate to his last start with the team. One reason why Showalter declined to reflect on Jiménez’s four years in Baltimore, besides the obvious that eulogies shouldn’t be penned with a week still remaining in the season, is that he hadn’t eliminated the right-hander from consideration at Tropicana Field.

The Orioles and Pirates split a two-game series in 2014 at PNC Park, winning 9-2 and losing 9-8. Chris Davis posted his first three-homer game in the opener, tagging Francisco Liriano, Jared Hughes and Jeanmar Gomez.

The second games was a mess. The Orioles fell behind 4-0 in the first, led 6-4 in the top of the second and fell behind 8-6 in the bottom half. They tied the game in the top of the seventh and gave up the go-ahead run in the bottom half.

Tillman was charged with eight runs and seven hits and issued three walks in one inning (and four batters). Brad Brach followed with four scoreless innings, but Ryan Webb took the loss.

Only two current Orioles have faced Pirates right-hander Trevor Williams. Jeremy Hellickson won’t be pinch-hitting tonight and Tim Beckham (1-for-3 with a double) may not play due to a hamstring injury.

Gausman has made one career start against the Pirates, on June 6 at Camden Yards, and allowed four runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings. Mark Trumbo delivered a walk-off single in the 10th inning. Trey Mancini’s three-run homer in the 11th inning the following night gave the Orioles a 9-6 win.

The Pirates will remember Mancini. He also homered in the ninth inning to complete a four-run rally.

Note: The Orioles have adjusted their fall instructional league schedule by moving the Oct. 3 game against the Rays to Oct 2 at noon in Sarasota, and adding an Oct. 5 game against the Rays at noon in Sarasota.

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