The opposing pitcher last night wasn’t going to influence the entirety of manager Brandon Hyde’s lineup. Just a couple of concessions.
Gunnar Henderson was playing third base despite the left-on-left matchup with Tigers starter Tyler Alexander. You can’t sit the rookie. Get him in the box as much as humanly possible.
He flied to the center field fence in the second inning, one of the few hard-hit balls against Alexander in an 11-0 loss.
Adley Rutschman was catching and batting second despite splits that are much more favorable from the left side of the plate. He began last night slashing .286/.389/.510 with 26 doubles, 10 home runs and 32 RBIs in 306 plate appearances against right-handers and .165/.295/.266 with five doubles, one home run and four RBIs in 95 plate appearances versus southpaws.
Hyde will catch Rutschman or use him as the designated hitter. It’s the stretch run. The triceps injury seems like a lifetime ago.
Cedric Mullins moved down to eighth in the order last night, but he played. Never mind his .205/.267/.301 line against lefties before facing Alexander.
Hyde wanted his best players on the field with the number of games dwindling and his club four back for the last wild card.
Kyle Stowers and Terrin Vavra sat against Alexander and entered the game late. Both of them left-handed hitters and two of the key contributors to Sunday’s comeback win in Toronto. But Hyde chose the right-handed hitting Austin Hays to lead off with Mullins lowered and putting Henderson at third shifted Ramón Urías to second base as Rougned Odor’s replacement.
That was the concession.
Ryan Mountcastle returned to the lineup as the designated hitter, which filled a spot that otherwise might have improved Stowers’ chances. His leadoff single in the seventh broke up the no-hit bid.
Stowers hit .326/.430/.547 against left-handers with Triple-A Norfolk, but he has just one plate appearance against them in the majors. Henderson was much better against right-handers, a reason cited for delaying his promotion to the Orioles, but he’s playing every day.
“Just the way our outfield is configured,” Hyde said, noting how Ryan McKenna has been getting regular at-bats against left-handers over the last few months, with last night an exception.
“(Anthony) Santander obviously with switch and having a good year against left-handed pitching. So, it’s more of just who we have on our roster.”
Past Septembers put Hyde in more of an experimental mood. The unexpected contender status has shuffled his plans. The mindset is different when chasing a wild card, which has an obvious impact on the lineup card.
“I think (Stowers) is going to get plenty of opportunities,” Hyde said. “Just kind of where we are right now and where our roster is right now. We’ve got 17 games to go. I think if we were 20 games under .500, things might be a little different, but right now we’re trying to win games. I’m trying to put the best lineup I can out there.”
The schedule is down to 16. The Orioles are facing another left-hander tonight, Joey Wentz, taken by the Braves with the 40th-overall pick in the 2016 draft.
Wentz made his major league debut in May and tonight is only his fifth start. Stowers might have to wait until Wednesday night, when the Tigers start right-hander Matt Manning, the ninth-overall pick in 2016.
Manning has made only 29 starts over two seasons, but he’s got reverse splits. Right-handers hit .282/.329/.407 and left-handers hit .239/.307/.396. But they probably won’t keep Stowers on the bench.
Just an assumption on my part. I didn’t get an early peek at the lineup.
However it’s constructed through the last 16 games, Hyde has learned that the moments aren’t too big for the rookies tossed into the fast lane in a wild card race. He already knew that about Rutschman, closer Félix Bautista and starter Kyle Bradish from their earlier arrivals. Now he’s gathered the same information on the others, with Henderson the shiniest of examples.
“They’re playing really well and taking good at-bats,” Hyde said.
“Gunnar’s been a huge lift for us. Just played extremely well. The future’s exciting.”