Betemit making best of new role (Gonzalez done, still tied)

Wilson Betemit’s defensive lapses cost him a regular spot in the Orioles’ lineup. He’s healthy now, but he’s a man without a position.

Left-handed designated hitter could be a nice fit.

Betemit began tonight hitting .304 against right-handers, and his RBI single off Rays starter Alex Cobb in the bottom of the first inning scored J.J. Hardy for a 2-1 lead.

Betemit raced to second base on the throw to third, where Matt Wieters advanced on the hit. Chris Davis walked with two outs to load the bases, but Manny Machado grounded into a force to complete Cobb’s 24-pitch inning.

Machado has made a smooth, and often spectacular, transition to third base, and Mark Reynolds is giving the Oriole plus-defense at first, leaving Betemit to scratch for at-bats as the DH. Betemit continues to lead the Orioles with 15 errors despite an extended stay on the disabled list.

Before tonight, Betemit was batting .308/.359/.479 in his last 51 games since June 13. He came off the DL on Sept. 1 when rosters expanded.

Four of the first five batters singled off Cobb, who hadn’t faced anyone in the Orioles’ lineup before tonight. Nate McLouth collected his third hit in two nights, and J.J. Hardy followed with his fifth hit in the series. Wieters blooped a one-out single into left field, and third base coach DeMarlo Hale’s aggressive send allowed McLouth to score.

I guess the Orioles don’t fear left fielder Ben Francisco’s arm. They also trust McLouth’s speed.

Betemit followed with his single to break the 1-1 tie.

Wieters is tied with Adam Jones for the team lead in RBIs with 74. B.J. Upton robbed Jones of at least one, and most likely two, by racing into left-center field and making a leaping catch after almost over-running the ball.

Upton homered on the second pitch thrown by Miguel Gonzalez to give the Rays a short-lived 1-0 lead. Upton has eight career leadoff homers, including three this season.

Gonzalez threw 23 pitches in the top of the first inning. He walked two batters before Francisco lined into a double play.

Gonzalez has allowed 12 homers in 12 starts, with nine of them coming in his first five outings.

Update: The Rays tied the game in the top of the third inning on Francisco’s two-out double.

Gonzalez is up to 56 pitches through the third, and this game is moving so slowly, the Mexican League season might start before the seventh-inning stretch. Gonzalez will have a good excuse for missing the opener this winter.

Update II: Rays manager Joe Maddon brought in left-hander Jake McGee to face Betemit with two on and two outs in the fifth. Betemit, batting .141 from the right side, struck out to end the threat and leave the game tied, 2-2.

Gonzalez retired eight in a row before Francisco singled with one out in the sixth.

Update III: Gonzalez escaped a jam in the sixth and gave the Orioles a much-needed quality start. He allowed two runs and six hits in six innings, with five walks, four strikeouts, a home run and a balk. He threw 104 pitches, 66 for strikes.

Gonzalez struck out Ryan Roberts with runners at second and third and one out, and he induced a grounder from Jose Molina with the bases loaded and two outs after an intentional walk to Matt Joyce.

Gonzalez made a nice recovery tonight after Upton’s leadoff home run and the three walks in the first two innings. He gave up Francisco’s RBI double in the third and retired eight in a row.

Darren O’Day stranded two in the top of the seventh by striking out Francisco, who’s been mentioned a lot tonight.

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