Mateo still matters and another look at starters' scoreless streak

In the unpredictable world of baseball, it’s been fascinating to watch Jorge Mateo go from bubble non-tender guy to trade bait to integral part of the Orioles’ lineup planning.

He has a role on a first-place team and owners of the best record in the American League that for quite some time appeared to have little use for him. Another good reminder of the dangers of rushing to conclusions.

Mateo was groomed and advertised as more of a super-utility guy, with club promises to test him more regularly in the outfield at spring training. It didn’t happen that much, and he’s settled in as a second baseman.

Jackson Holliday eventually will become the everyday player at the position, but he was platooned during his brief stay in the majors and currently is leading off again for Triple-A Norfolk. He went 1-for-3 yesterday with a double, two walks, two strikeouts and a run scored and is batting .278 with a .928 OPS.

Mateo entered yesterday’s series finale against the Reds with home runs in two of his last three games. Before Thursday, he hadn’t hit a ball over the fence since April 30, 2023 in Detroit. He delivered an inside-the-park homer on Aug. 20 in Oakland.

Of his last 12 starts before yesterday, Mateo collected a hit in 10 games. Of course, he struck out his first three at-bats and went 0-for-4 because I’m writing about him. Rarely fails.

I talked to Danny Coulombe about his scoreless streak and he surrendered a home run in Boston. I talked to Jacob Webb about his new dad strength and he gave up a run. I shouldn’t be allowed within 500 yards of a ballpark.

Mateo also looks comfortable at second base, though shortstop is his natural position and where he won a Fielding Bible Award in 2022.

A scoreless game Friday night spun in the Orioles favor after Mateo led off the seventh with a single and stole base, advanced on a fly ball and came home on Adley Rutschman’s double.

The Orioles turned a 3-6-4 double play last week that required the lightning-fast Mateo to cover first. And he chased down a ball past first base in the sixth inning Saturday night, fired to second and nabbed Jonathan India while also preventing Jordan Westburg from being charged with a throwing error.

I don’t know how many second basemen make those plays but Mateo has the speed and athleticism to do it.

The Mateo tease has tested everyone’s patience. He batted .347/.395/.667 last March/April and finished at .217/.267/.340. Six of his seven homers were hit before May.

You can’t steal first base. Speed only does so much for a team. But the Orioles are getting a lot out of Mateo in the early portion of the 2024 season.

Gunnar Henderson served as designated hitter yesterday, giving Mateo his first start at shortstop. I’m old enough to remember when he made 142 in 2022.

With Westburg an everyday player in his sophomore season, Ramón Urías is the infielder who’s most impacted by Mateo. He’s been in the lineup twice this month, including yesterday, and is batting .196 with a .520 OPS in 19 games.

Some bubble guys lift off higher than others. But Urias had a double and single yesterday, scored twice and was hit by a pitch. This roster is far from the shallow now.

Manager Brandon Hyde won’t let anyone rot on the bench, but it’s more difficult with Urías.

The Orioles aren’t facing an imminent roster crunch. Outfielder Austin Hays is approaching an injury rehab assignment, but his return won’t impact the infield.

If the rotation keeps cranking out scoreless innings, it won’t really matter which players are written into the lineup.

The Orioles have received three starts in a row with six-plus shutout frames for the first time since 1995. Per STATS, the club record is five from Sept. 2-6, 1974 and Sept. 26-Oct. 1, 1995.

The runner-up is the 1957 crew that strung together four in a row.

The Orioles also had three straight in 1969, 1974, 1982, 1992 and April 18-21, 2023.

The major league record in the modern era is six in a row by the Pirates in 1903.

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