Orioles manager Buck Showalter wasn’t certain last night whether the Orioles would regret leaving their bullpen intact with the Nationals in town. Alec Asher wasn’t available after working 3 1/3 innings the previous day and another early exit from Kevin Gausman could bring serious complications.
It’s not like the Nationals have many soft spots in their lineup. They led the majors in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, doubles and runs scored and were second in home runs. And Gausman still wasn’t in his second-half form from 2016.
What if Logan Verrett couldn’t cover a sufficient number of innings? Would Ryan Flaherty have to make his second career relief appearance?
Gausman eased those concerns by going seven innings, but it illustrated how the optionable pieces aren’t merely a toy. There’s a method to the roster madness and the Orioles didn’t want to go through the night with any regrets.
They rolled the dice and came out a winner.
Left-hander Chris Lee probably would have been called up if the Orioles made a move. He was the scheduled starter last night for Triple-A Norfolk and he’s on the 40-man roster. And though the Orioles prefer to keep him in the Tides’ rotation, they’re running out of eligible pitchers with so many guys riding the shuttle.
Lee held Louisville to two runs in 6 1/3 innings and struck out six batters while lowering his ERA from 6.75 to 5.81.
Asher always insists that he’s available, no matter how many pitches he throws. Showalter might be convinced tonight. And Verrett never had to remove his jacket.
Mychal Givens began to warm in the top of the seventh, the first time that the bullpen stirred, and Darren O’Day entered in the eighth. Brad Brach earned the save after Adam Lind forgot how to run the bases.
Edwin Jackson doesn’t have options, but he could be a bullpen piece. He made his debut Sunday afternoon with Norfolk, starting out of necessity, and allowed one run in three innings.
The Orioles think he could be a multi-purpose reliever also capable of stepping into the rotation in a pinch. They’re pretty excited about the possibilities. And his lack of options won’t matter if he’s effective. If he struggles, they can release him and move on to the next guy.
Of course, they could do the same thing with Steve Johnson, who’s also out of options and has allowed two runs with nine strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings.
Gausman provided a reminder last night that it’s much easier if the starters just get deep into games. The shuttle can be parked. Of course, it only takes a line drive or two, or an overzealous plate umpire, to rev it up again.
Michael Bourn went 0-for-4 last night with a walk and a strikeout in his first game with Norfolk. The outfield defense received an immediate upgrade with Bourn in center, Logan Schafer in left and Mike Yastrzemski in right. Pedro Alvarez, serving as the designated hitter, belted his fourth home run.
The Orioles envision Bourn being the left-handed equivalent of Craig Gentry, but can they get him on the 25-man roster? Hyun Soo Kim is having lots of trouble getting in the lineup, and not only with left-handers and knuckleballers on the mound. Let’s see if he starts tonight against right-hander Max Scherzer or whether Showalter sticks with Trey Mancini, who homered again last night and is 10-for-16 in his last five games.
I wonder whether Kim makes it through the season, especially if the Orioles reach a point where they need an extra reliever. He’s in the final year of his contract and opportunities for him are becoming scarce.
Showalter is quite happy being able to insert Gentry into games as a defensive replacement. Last night, he put Gentry in left field and shifted Joey Rickard to right for Mark Trumbo. Tonight, it could be Rickard and Gentry for Mancini and Seth Smith if Kim remains on the bench. Otherwise, Kim will be substituted later.
The beauty of the five-man bench.
The Orioles are 34-for-162 (.210) against Scherzer. Adam Jones is 12-for-28 (.429) with three doubles and three home runs. Chris Davis is 8-for-24 (.333) with a double and home run. Then, it gets ugly.
J.J. Hardy is 6-for-35 (.171) with two doubles and two home runs. Smith is 3-for-17 (.176), Manny Machado is 1-for-18 (.056) with a home run and nine strikeouts. Jonathan Schoop is 2-for-12 (.167) with seven strikeouts. Trumbo is 1-for-11 (.091) with seven strikeouts. Flaherty is 1-for-10 (.100).
Ubaldo Jiménez is 6-2 with a 2.24 ERA in nine career starts against the Nationals. He’s held them to a .215 average.
Jayson Werth is 5-for-14 (.357) with a triple and two home runs. Matt Wieters is 1-for-4 with a home run and two walks.
Caleb Joseph’s RBI last night was his first at home since Sept. 11, 2015 against the Royals.