Holding a division lead is one of the many challenges facing the Orioles as they get down to the final 35 games of the regular season.
Home field advantage is a major perk, but the Orioles entered camp just hoping to make the playoffs. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias never set the American League East title as a goal.
Clinch a wild card berth and see what happens.
The Orioles upped the ante by posting the best record in the league. But now there’s more to do.
Try staying in one piece.
Aaron Hicks is on the injured list for the second time, first with a strained hamstring and then a lower-back strain. Reliever Danny Coulombe was reinstated yesterday after being shut down with left biceps tendinitis.
“I think the biceps tendinitis thing, it was probably something I only needed a few days for,” Coulombe said. “But honestly at this point, we felt like it was just best to give me the 15 days and be ready for the stretch run. We’re approaching highs, especially compared to last year, and so I think it’s going to be good. I’m just excited to get going this last month, month and a half.”
Anthony Santander missed three games and left one early due to back soreness. Adam Frazier has his right hand and thumb wrapped, the pain keeping him on the bench a few nights when Hyde would have used him. James McCann has a bad bruise and blood blister on his left hand, caused by a 98 mph fastball. Jack Flaherty was scratched from Wednesday night’s start with “general soreness” and the inability to “bounce back” from his previous outing and side work.
Santander homered twice Wednesday in his return and hit a game-tying, two-run shot and singled last night. His back has barked since the opening series in Boston. He’s been the last guy out of the clubhouse on the road because he’s getting treatment on it. The media waited a long time to interview him after his two-homer game in Atlanta.
“The trainers are doing a really good job of keeping me in the lineup,” Santander said. “A lot of treatment, a lot of mobility, strength and conditioning, too. And hopefully, it doesn’t bother me again.”
Frazier returned to the lineup last night, batting ninth and playing second base, and he singled in a 5-3 win. The club will keep checking his hand and whether he struggles to grip the ball and bat.
Hyde has talked about the many players in the clubhouse who are “banged up.” The typical August stuff. Bumps, bruises, nicks and worse.
That’s one issue. There are also the organization’s constant attempts to freshen the pitching and control the innings, which isn’t a universal task in the league.
The teams with a heavier percentage of veterans and experience on their rosters don’t have the same worries. Guys aren’t approaching or blowing past their innings highs. Management isn’t meeting behind closed doors to plot strategies.
Tyler Wells is in the minors, moving up from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk, to reset and undergo another makeover that puts him in the bullpen. Mike Baumann registered a 5.59 ERA this month and was optioned Wednesday.
“He’s just in innings territory where he’s never been before, and we just feel like right now is the time to give him a little bit of a breather,” Hyde explained.
“Send him down, kind of go on kind of a strict appearance throwing program, low-pressure situations.”
A six-man rotation is supposed to aid the younger starters. It certainly hasn’t hurt Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer and Grayson Rodriguez. But Flaherty’s removal for an indefinite period leaves the club scrambling again.
Maybe he’s back this weekend. The next two nights are listed as TBA, but he felt much better yesterday after playing catch.
Having a youthful roster is a large part of the 2023 Orioles’ charm, and why they’re destined to rank among the most popular with fans. The prospects and other homegrown talent, the tight bonds that formed, the energy and hijinks. This isn’t a stoic team built largely through free agency and trades for veterans during a buyer stage. But if there’s any downside or risk, it’s the venturing into new territory. Those extra games and innings.
Lineups are posted later than usual because Hyde has to take inventory. He was sold on Frazier yesterday, and Santander said his back felt much better – perhaps loosening it with those two home runs.
All of this is happening while the Rays keep nipping at their heels, refusing to let the losses of their ace pitcher, star shortstop and others send them tumbling. The division lead is two.
“I wouldn’t expect them to go anywhere,” Hyde said.
“I don’t think Toronto’s going anywhere. This team is so incredibly talented, and their pitching staff, I would expect them to win a lot of games the rest of the year. And Tampa’s Tampa. Just came back three games against Colorado and they have a knack to win, especially at home. And incredibly talented, and their offense is really clicking right now. And their bullpen’s always been good. So, I wouldn’t expect any of these teams to go anywhere.”