Some thoughts and opinions as Orioles close out series in Bronx

NEW YORK – The Orioles are two-thirds into a series hyped by media as a do-or-die matchup. Lose two games or get swept and don’t bothering playing out the rest of the season.

The club tried to downplay it after the last homestand. Manager Brandon Hyde and his players can read the standings. They also can read a calendar.

If you’re still reading this, here are a few thoughts and opinions about what’s transpired at Yankee Stadium.

* The fuss over the hit-by-pitches in the first game was over the top.

Not unexpected, mind you. Just way over the top.

In no way, shape or form were Albert Suárez and Keegan Akin throwing at Yankees hitters. If you don’t pitch inside, you can’t pitch, and that’s certainly true against Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres.

Suárez brought zero command into the game. The guy walked the bases loaded in the fourth, for crying out loud. Pinpoint command wasn’t on the menu. So yes, there was a risk of getting hit.  

Suárez threw 96 pitches and only 49 strikes. He issued five free passes. Like Eddie Money, the man had no control.

(If you get that reference, you’re old.)

Nobody wants a ball to slam off a hitter’s hands. Ask Nick Markakis. But it does happen. Ask every Oriole who wanted a piece of CC Sabathia in 2012 after he busted Markakis’ thumb.

The injury occurred during an at-bat, not in a dark alley.

Nobody should be thrilled about a hit-by-pitch but the over-reactions this week were comical at the least and dangerous at the worst.

We’ll never truly know if Nestor Cortes, who dropped the Jr., wanted to drop Gunnar Henderson in the sixth inning, but he denied it later. Everyone was bracing for a retaliation and the emptying of dugouts and bullpens. Henderson, to his credit, spun out of the way and later took the high road.

"Pitcher's been trying to work up recently," Henderson said. "Just a competitive pitch. I mean, didn't really think anything of it."

He’s the only one.

Giancarlo Stanton stood motionless and glared at Dillon Tate after a ball tailed toward him in the sixth but didn’t come close to making contact. He didn’t even need to flinch.  But this was where the game had taken us. Anything that wasn’t outside or grooved down the middle was deemed as malicious.  

Yankees pitchers have hit 42 batters, most in the American League and third in the majors. The Orioles have plunked 24, tied for 25th in the majors. The Orioles have been hit 34 times, including twice last night, and the Yankees 25. But Baltimore was painted as behaving in typical thuggish fashion or some other nonsense.

"You never want to see your guys get hit, especially up in the hand area," said manager Brandon Hyde. "We've been hit before, too."

Yeah, they sure have. And it’s just as absurd to accuse the Yankees of always doing it on purpose. They don’t rank among the leaders because they’re head or hand hunters.

Fans demanded that skulls be busted in the next game. Yankees broadcasters debated after Keegan Akin hit Torres whether an Oriole should “go down.” Whether bench coach Brad Ausmus, filling in as manager, or someone else in the dugout would even need to voice it.

Meanwhile, the Orioles were hit five times in the four-games series at Camden Yards and the Yankees only once. Henderson is worked inside all the time. He was nailed on the hand in Baltimore and drilled behind the right shoulder last night by Victor González. The crowd roared.

Caleb Ferguson nailed Colton Cowser above the right elbow in the eighth. Cowser slammed his bat to the ground, with more cheering from the stands, but he joked later about is on-base percentage and downplayed the incident.

“Definitely pissed,” Judge said Tuesday night. “There was a couple balls up and in. It’s part of it. They like to throw in.”

They ain’t the only ones.

Hyde’s media scrum yesterday was mostly about the latest round of surgeries, but a New York reporter closed it out by mentioning how the Yankees were “pretty upset.” Did Hyde expect any carryover?

“I have no idea,” he replied.

Can Hyde understand their reaction?

“I think getting hit is, unfortunately, a terrible part of the game, and I don’t think anybody wants to see anybody get hit,” he said. “I don’t want to see their guys get hit, I don’t want to see my guys get hit. When something like that happens, because it’s New York, it’s a little bit bigger of a deal. You just don’t want to see that happen.”

The high road. Henderson and Cowser traveled it again last night. Should be easy to find without a map.

My unsolicited advice: Don’t let the first instinct be to retaliate and act like no other team gets drilled. But if you must, at least aim for the buttocks or meaty portion of the thigh.

* Spring training numbers don’t always bury a player.

The Orioles must have liked Nick Maton because they kept him on the camp roster until the final round of cuts. He cleared outright waivers on March 31.

They must have liked Maton because he was 0-for-23 with 10 strikeouts in exhibition games.

Further proof came yesterday when his contract was selected.

Maton was batting .294 with an .869 OPS, six doubles, seven home runs and 28 RBIs in 41 games with Norfolk. He can play anywhere in the infield and outfield, and he’s also pitched.

“I just wanted to focus on doing well down there and working out what I needed to work on and not really worry about anything else outside of my control,” Maton said. “If something like this did happen, super pumped for it. But I’m just happy to be here and help the team anyway I can.”

Maton grinned when reminded that he had a poor spring training. Yeah, he remembers.

“I think everyone goes through little stints and that was mine in the spring,” he said. “It’s kind of good to get it out of the way early and work on stuff down there in Triple-A. I feel good right now. We’ve worked on a lot of stuff and yeah, I feel like I’m in a good space.”

Jordan Westburg is day-to-day with a bruised left hip. The Orioles could have recalled Connor Norby if Westburg went on the injured list. They can’t bring him up for a healthy player until 10 days pass since his option.

(Norby wasn’t in New York yesterday and led off for Norfolk.)

Let’s pretend that Norby is eligible. Would the Orioles want to option him again so quickly if Westburg is ready in a few days? Maybe they wanted to avoid the yo-yoing.

The world may never know.

* Kyle Stowers got a longer look than Heston Kjerstad, but they’re teammates again with Norfolk.

Kjerstad appeared in seven games, received 17 plate appearances and was optioned on May 13. Stowers was recalled that day, appeared in 17 games, received 36 plate appearances and was optioned yesterday.

Stowers’ defense probably got him more action but there’s a limit with Colton Cowser and Cedric Mullins on the roster.

Cowser played in his 70th game last night and was the American League’s Rookie of the Month in April. The prolonged slump that followed didn’t sway the Orioles. They’ve stretched the leash a long longer than in 2023.

Mullins is batting .193 with a .566 OPS and doesn’t play every day. He’s removed for pinch-hitters. But the Orioles want to give him every chance to bust out and they also covet his speed and defense in center field. He can influence games in other ways, like running down Ben Rice’s 398-foot drive to left-center last night, singled twice, driving in the go-ahead run in the 10th and scoring twice.

The Orioles don’t have a natural fifth outfielder on the active roster and could switch back after Westburg is healthy. But Ryan O’Hearn and Jorge Mateo are capable of filling the role.

Kjerstad could be next in line since Stowers must stay down a minimum 10 days unless there’s an injury.


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