Pedro Álvarez wasn’t supposed to be in the Orioles lineup this afternoon, and they appeared to be fed another dose of rotten luck with Danny Valencia a late scratch. This wasn’t a spoonful of sugar. Just the latest situation to make them bitter.
Luis Sardiñas is out with a sore lower back. The Tigers started left-hander Daniel Norris. A normal four-man bench, down to only two healthy players including catcher Chance Sisco, limited the options for manager Buck Showalter.
Enter Álvarez in a rare start against a southpaw. Exit a fastball from Norris, with Álvarez’s two-run shot in the second inning providing an early cushion for Kevin Gausman and his solo shot in the eighth providing much-needed breathing room in a 5-3 victory before an announced crowd of 28,089 at Camden Yards.
Álvarez has two multi-homer games this season and 15 in his career. He led off the eighth inning against Joe Jimenez by clearing the out-of-town scoreboard by inches, the ball smacking the railing and bouncing back onto the field as he motored around second base.
Gausman turned over a bases-loaded jam to Brad Brach with two outs in the sixth. Making his earliest appearance since Sept 21, 2016, Brach struck out John Hicks to preserve a 3-1 lead.
The Tigers scored twice off Brach with two outs in the seventh to reduce the lead to 4-3, but Mychal Givens retired the side in order in the eighth, Álvarez struck again, Darren O’Day handled the save responsibilities and the Orioles won their first home series of the season while improving their overall record to 8-20.
By allowing one earned run, Gausman’s ERA in six starts has dropped from 13.50 to 8.00 to 6.60 to 5.57 to 4.66 to 4.15. He walked three batters, struck out four and was done after 106 pitches.
Álvarez made his first start at third base since May 28, 2016. He was batting .206/.272/.339 with 19 home runs in 672 career plate appearances against left-handers.
Nothing that the Orioles willingly would have scripted for today’s game, but they made the best of a bad situation. And Álvarez delivered his fifth home run of the season with a 432-foot shot to center field that had an exit velocity of 114.2 mph, according to Statcast.
The Pirates moved Álvarez across the diamond to first base and he tried playing right field last summer at Triple-A Norfolk before the experiment was squashed. Returning to third base today, he made a few wide throws and bounced one that Trey Mancini scooped for the out. No errors on the day, just a couple of adventures.
Mancini hit his first career leadoff home run, and the first for the Orioles this season, to provide a quick lead. They’ve now been outscored 29-9 in the first inning.
Norris exited the game in the third inning with left groin tightness. First baseman Miguel Cabrera was replaced in the fifth due to left biceps spasms. Everyone has their tale of woe.
Joey Rickard singled to lead off the second inning, his first hit since the Orioles returned him to the majors on Saturday, and Alvarez followed with his fifth home run.
Rickard batted .345/.456/.473 with five doubles, one triple and 10 RBIs in 16 games at Triple-A Norfolk. He went 5-for-33 with 10 strikeouts in spring training and the Orioles broke camp without him.
“It’s always disappointing,” he said. “Everybody down there wants to be here, but you’ve just got to go out there and play the game and play hard and play to win and good things will happen.”
Rickard said he was “a little bit” surprised that the Orioles optioned him despite his poor production in spring training.
“I always expect to be here, to play well, but the way things are going, the way I was swinging it, the way I was playing, it wasn’t up to the big league standard and I agreed,” he said. “But I went down there and worked on things and took it as a blessing in disguise.”
So what changed for Rickard in the International League, where he reached base in all 15 games with a plate appearance?
“Just kind of learning to relax,” he said. “Everything got sped up. Big league arms, they’re good. But down there I got a chance to kind of take a breath and take a step back and go from there.”
Rickard wasn’t anticipating a promotion this early in the season, but the Orioles wanted an extra reserve on the bench and they were set to face to left-handed starters to close the series.
“Never,” he said. “It’s a crazy game, so you try not to worry about those kinds of things. They’ve got a good bunch of guys down there that are playing together. We were playing well together and the stats will come and that’s kind of what happened.”
Gausman was aided in the third inning by a 9-4-2-5 putout after Jose Iglesias’ one-out double. Victor Reyes rounded third base, tried to get back and Caleb Joseph nabbed him.
Hicks led off the fifth inning with a home run into the visiting bullpen - his second homer of the season, with both coming against the Orioles - to reduce the lead to 3-1. But Gausman retired the next three batters and reached back for his best fastball after Hicks demolished a 91 mph heater.
The game could have gotten away from the Orioles in the sixth after two infield hits and a walk, but Brach fanned Hicks on a 94 mph fastball and Craig Gentry increased the lead to 4-1 in the bottom half with an RBI single. Anthony Santander led off with a single and Rickard walked before Gentry grounded a Buck Farmer slider into left field.
Gentry’s RBI was crucial as the Tigers rallied in the seventh, getting back-to-back, two-out doubles from Jeimer Candelario and Niko Goodrum, who replaced Cabrera at first base. Goodrum’s blooper down the left field line brought the Tigers within one run.
Brach struck out three batters in the inning, but also dialed up the tension level. His ERA rose to 5.73 in 11 innings.
Jace Peterson and Manny Machado walked in the bottom of the seventh and pulled off a double steal with two outs, but they were stranded. Peterson has swiped third base in three games since joining the Orioles.
Candelario walked with one out in the first, but Gausman retired the next two batters, striking out Nick Castellanos on his 18th pitch. It was noteworthy with Gausman sporting a 10.80 ERA in the first inning this year and 5.59 in his career.
Maybe it was an omen. Good things were going to happen to the Orioles today, no matter how it appeared on paper.
Update: Valencia had tightness in his hamstring, but he should avoid the disabled list. Sardiñas will be placed on the DL, with an infielder taking his place on the roster. Engelb Vielma is on the 40-man roster.
Mark Trumbo will be activated on Tuesday, but the Orioles need a utility infielder to replace Sardiñas.
Manager Buck Showalter on Valencia: “He was running before the game. About 12:50, 12:52, Brian (Ebel) walked in - I was just finishing getting dressed to go out - and said (Valencia) didn’t think he’d be able to go. It was tight, his hamstring was real tight, and he said he had this similar before and tried to play with it and ended up really hurting it for an extended period of time. So that was quite a scramble. Had to apologize to Gardy (Ron Gardenhire). Had about a 45-second what-if.
“Sardiñas will be going on the disabled list after the smoke clears. See how Mark did today. I know he’s in his last at-bat there. We know he’s going on the disabled list. Danny, he should be a player, especially after we get in some different weather. The thought is that it was a good idea and they think after the doctor looking at it that he may be OK and not have to go on the disabled list. But we’ll see.”
Showalter on Álvarez: “You’re trying to pick who. Obviously, our options are limited. Pete’s got the most experience at third base, but you also see all the work he does before games and everything. He wants to be available for situations like that. It’s hard to do, but if you had to pick one guy to do it, you’d pick Pete because he’s, ‘Fine, let’s go, what’s the team need? I’m ready.’ Not any cautionary excuse. I think he looked at it as an opportunity to do something for the club that we were obviously in need of.”
Showalter on using Brach early: “He was the guy equipped to pitch two innings today. I was hoping he would pitch the seventh and the eighth in a perfect world. Just because of where we are in the bullpen. We talked about it in the spring that there were going to be some times where guys were going to move around. And a lot of it plays to the lineup, too, that we’re facing.”
Showalter on needing utility player: “I was talking to Dan (Duquette). I think you’ll see an infielder replace an infielder. We’re hoping Mark’s at-bat goes fine and he joins us Tuesday. We won a series, we’re excited about getting Mark back.”
Showalter on Valencia and weather: “I think Danny would have played if it wasn’t ... I mean, it was cold today. Not that it snuck up on anybody, but the wind. I actually considered Pete with the kind of reverse-split guy Norris. But the way our bench was, we needed to have someone who could play multiple positions on the bench.
“Chance was originally a shortstop, his best position is probably second other than catching. He was in play today in the infield. (Andrew Cashner) had his spikes on in the first inning. He’s probably as good a runner as we’ve got. So, it was all hands on deck. I know he had a full lather going from the first inning on.”
Showalter on Álvarez being ready on short notice: “There are guys who can do it and will do it, but it’s almost like I told Pete, ‘You’re playing on house money here, let’s go.’ I didn’t have to tell him that. When I finally got to the dugout after all the paperwork, I’m always real cautious about something like that. When you’re doing a lineup card real quick, John (Russell) and I must have looked at it six or seven times because things are moving around.
“When I got out there, Pete was bouncing around like a guy on his first day in Little League. He embraces it. A lot of people don’t. That’s why you pull for him. He goes down to Norfolk, he does everything. This is a guy who was a first round pick, the first three or four picks, led the National League in home runs and he can humble himself and do what is better for the group. That’s why he’s so respected in the locker room. It has nothing to do with how he performed today.”
Álvarez on playing today: “Honestly, it was fine. You’ve got to be ready for stuff like that to happen. Obviously, it doesn’t happen very often. I don’t know, it was weird. I didn’t skip a beat. I put on my jockstrap and my cup and I headed downstairs.”
Update II: Rickard was optioned to Norfolk to make room for Trumbo, who comes off the disabled list on Tuesday.