Going with six relievers also factors into it, of course. There are times when someone is warming in a certain situation, like Alec Asher in the eighth inning or Vidal Nuño in the ninth, and a second peek through the binoculars is needed for confirmation. But anything goes at the moment.
Donnie Hart doesn’t want to be cast as a lefty specialist and it’s harder for manager Buck Showalter to confine him to the role. He was 7-for-24 against right-handers last season during his first tour of the majors and already is 6-for-25 heading into tonight’s game against the Royals.
In a strange reversal, left-handers are 6-for-19 against Hart after going 5-for-38 last summer.
Hart’s responsibilities are expanding, but not his ego.
“He gave me a shot at a save earlier. I thought that was pretty cool,” said Hart, who came within a hit batter, the Red Sox’s Marco Hernandez, with two outs in the ninth of recording his first major league save on April 22.
“I know my job is to get those lefties out. I’ve kind of been unfortunate with them as of lately. Some seeing-eye singles and infield hits. But I think he has a lot of trust in Darren (O’Day) and Brad (Brach) to take on those last six outs and those last three outs. Those are the guys who are fully capable of doing it. So I wouldn’t say that my role has changed a whole lot.
“I think those guys are taking on that area of the game. You’ve got 10 years of experience in Darren and you’ve got (two) All-Star appearances with the two combined. I think it’s a real good fit.”
Hart has been trusted this year to tackle the toughest right-handers, and not only because Brach and O’Day haven’t always been available to do it. Mychal Givens was shut down briefly with a sore back.
In Wednesday’s brutal 7-6 loss to the Nationals, Hart inherited a runner from Givens with no outs in the seventh inning. He retired Bryce Harper on a popup and induced a ground ball from Ryan Zimmerman that the Orioles turned into a 6-4-3 double play.
“It helps the team,’ Hart said. “It helps get further into the ballgame where you don’t have to come out and get me after the lefties are through. I thoroughly enjoyed (Wednesday) night’s outing facing Zimmerman. I mean, this guy is the hottest hitter in the game. And then you’ve got (Daniel) Murphy right behind him.”
Murphy continues to confound Hart. He’s now 3-for-3 with a double and RBI in their brief encounters, including a leadoff single in the eighth inning Wednesday that led to Hart’s removal and Michael Taylor’s two-run homer off Asher.
“Murphy, I can’t get him out,” Hart said. “He’s fisted a fastball in into right field, he’s hit a fastball at the end of the bat into left field and now he hit one underneath the first baseman’s glove off me. I was joking about it last night after the game was over. I guess I’m going to have to send him a jersey and have him sign it for me, see if maybe that will help get him now.”
Hart’s name has been included in the closer talk while Britton is on the disabled list. He notched 26 saves in the minors.
“You like to hear that the manager’s got that kind of trust in you,” Hart said. “Regardless of what people say, that inning, you can’t put it into words what getting the last three outs of a ballgame is, because you get different at-bats from the first inning than you do in the fifth inning than you do in the ninth inning. Everybody’s taking their best shot at you in the ninth because they know it’s their last chance to try to win a ballgame.
“I did it throughout the minor leagues. Obviously, that’s different than here at this level, but there’s a different mindset to it in a way. You kind of have to be pretty much ruthless with hitters. And sometimes they win and you have to tip your hat to them. But it’s nice knowing the manager has faith in you and is willing to trust you to go out and get that job done.”
Showalter will lean most heavily on Brach and O’Day, but he’s suggested that Hart and Givens could get some opportunities. It all hinges on the circumstances.
“I just said there might be a night where that has to happen,” Showalter said. “It just depends on the matchup. I’ll use any of them if the rest is there and the matchup is right. It’s all about keeping these guys healthy. I haven’t tried to anoint somebody who’s pitched in the ninth inning every time. Just depends on where we are and where they are in their lineups.”
Chris Tillman will try tonight to build on his five scoreless innings in Sunday’s debut against the White Sox. Do I hear six?
Tillman is 3-3 with a 5.29 ERA in eight career starts against the Royals and 1-2 with a 5.79 ERA in three starts in Kansas City, with 12 runs and 24 hits in 18 2/3 innings.
Alcides Escobar is 7-for-23 (.304) with a double and home run against Tillman. Mike Moustakas is 5-for-15 (.333) with a double and home run and Salvador Perez is 5-for-16 (.313) with a home run.
Brandon Moss is 1-for-15. Alex Gordon has four hits in 17 at-bats (.235), but he’s homered twice.
Nate Karns is 2-2 with a 4.58 ERA in seven games (six starts) in his first season with the Royals, his fourth team in five major league seasons.
Karns moved into the rotation after working in relief in his debut and allowing four runs in two-thirds of an inning in Minnesota, with two hits, two walks and two strikeouts. He packed a lot into 27 pitches.
Of course, Karns surrendered only one run in each of his first two starts covering 11 2/3 innings. He’s allowed two runs or fewer in four of his starts.
Karns is 1-1 with a 3.72 ERA in six career games (five starts) against the Orioles, with a 1.000 WHIP in 29 innings. Chris Davis is 3-for-10 with two home runs and five strikeouts. Jonathan Schoop is 3-for-4 with a double and J.J. Hardy is 2-for-5 with a home run.
Manny Machado is 1-for-13.