The parade of opposing left-handed starters this week has created a new set of lineup challenges for Orioles manager Brandon Hyde.
Gunnar Henderson sat out Monday night’s series opener against the Athletics, but left-handed hitting Adam Frazier started at second base. Only one catcher played. Ryan McKenna made another start in right field.
Last night’s 11th game of the season produced the 11th different order. Frazier moved to the bench. Henderson started at third base. James McCann was the first of four designated hitters used - it felt like a record of some sort - and his first Orioles hit was a tie-breaking double in the fourth inning.
Who knows what tomorrow brings – besides another lefty starter for Oakland?
The streak will run to four southpaws in a row, counting the Yankees’ Nestor Cortes on Sunday. Thursday afternoon’s spot remains TBA, but Oakland is expected to send right-hander Adam Oller to the mound. Oller’s two appearances this season have been in relief.
The Athletics’ rotation also includes right-handers Shintaro Fujinami and James Kaprielian. Fujinami would be on turn Thursday under normal conditions but he’s a once-a-week starter. Kaprielian would be working on short rest.
The TBA mystery is being resolved. Seems like it should be easier when there isn’t an injury.
Then again, the Orioles initially had TBA for Thursday before confirming Cole Irvin. Must be a baseball thing. Just roll with the pitching punches.
Roster construction is tied tightly to the other teams’ pitching plans. How often do the Orioles carry three catchers? How often do they have three on the 40-man?
Yet, here we are, with McCann healthy and Anthony Bemboom remaining in the clubhouse rather than stepping aside as anticipated.
Bemboom is attached to the bench because he’s a left-handed hitter, but he entered Sunday’s game after Terrin Vavra pinch-hit for McCann. The Orioles didn’t need Adley Rutschman, in the midst of his 4-for-4 day, to move behind the plate. They didn’t need to surrender their designated hitter.
Kyle Stowers was optioned Sunday and can’t return for 10 days unless he’s an injury replacement. The White Sox’s rotation is strictly right-handed. How long do the Orioles stay with three catchers and how would they go about deviating from it?
Bemboom’s left-handed bat would come into play in Chicago if the Orioles are willing to keep their current arrangement. And he can’t simply be optioned. The Orioles would need to designate him for assignment and hope that he goes unclaimed on waivers.
And that he’d accept an outright.
The third catcher makes it easier for the Orioles to rest Rutschman without losing his bat, which they deem important going back to the offseason. They want to ease his workload a bit.
Rutschman has made 93 starts behind the plate since debuting on May 21, 2022. The Oakland series began with him ranked third in the majors during that stretch, trailing J.T. Realmuto and Sean Murphy.
The Orioles have a day game Saturday in Chicago following the nighttime series opener, and Rutschman won’t catch back-to-back. But he certainly could DH again.
Eleven games have been played in the 2023 season and Rutschman hasn’t missed one, catching in nine. He won’t go 162.
Oh sure, it’s tempting while he’s batting .395 with a 1.118 OPS, three home runs and eight walks.
If the White Sox don’t adjust their rotation after Thursday’s off-day, Mike Clevinger would start Friday night and be followed by Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease. Lance Lynn would move back to the Phillies series. Lucas Gioliti already is set for it.
The order is capable of putting up lots of crooked numbers, however it’s arranged. And against whomever the opposing manager sends to the mound.
“I think our offense, our lineup, top to bottom is scary when we’re rolling,” said Ryan Mountcastle, who homered twice last night, including a grand slam, and tied the club record with nine RBIs. “Hopefully, we can keep it going and win the series.”
“We have a combination of everything,” said Austin Hays. “We can draw walks when we’re not getting hits, we have the ability to hit homers on a pretty consistent basis, and we’ve got a lot of speed in our lineup that guys can get in scoring position without getting a hit. It’s just a really prolific offense that can score a lot of runs.”
Hays batted leadoff last night, collected four hits, including a home run, and came within a triple of the cycle. No reason to lower him in the order tonight against the latest lefty.
“It was good tonight. Got some pitches to hit and got some barrels on the ball,” he said.
“If my name’s in the lineup, I like where I’m at. It doesn’t matter if I’m one or nine or in the middle of the lineup. As long as the skip puts me in there, I’m good with wherever it is. Just happy to be in the lineup.”