ATLANTA - After deciding against bringing up a fresh arm Thursday night in D.C., the Orioles don’t seem to have much choice today after playing 15 innings. They were discussing it before the final out was recorded in a 10-7 win.
Left-hander Donnie Hart hasn’t pitched since Wednesday and he’s on the 40-man roster. He also knows his way to the shuttle. He might have his license and can drive it himself.
Because Hart was optioned on June 13, he would be eligible to return today.
By waiting until Monday to activate third baseman Tim Beckham from the disabled list, the Orioles are giving him a few more games in his rehab assignment and delaying a corresponding roster move.
Beckham played shortstop last night for Triple-A Norfolk - hey, the Orioles might need one later this summer - and went 0-for-3 to lower his average with the Tides to .091 in three games. He’s 2-for-19 in six combined games with Norfolk and Double-A Bowie.
The Orioles were carrying three utility players until optioning Corban Joseph to Bowie. A return to a four-man bench in the American League would leave them to choose between Jace Peterson and Steve Wilkerson as the player removed to create room for Beckham on the 25-man roster.
A spot also has to open on the 40-man because Beckham is on the 60-day disabled list.
Peterson seems to be the safest of the two players. He’s been getting regular playing time against right-handers, whether at third base or the outfield, and he had eight hits in his last 25 at-bats in eight games before last night. Wilkerson, also a left-handed hitter, started at third base Thursday night in D.C. and made a sensational diving stop and throw behind the bag, but he was promoted as Pedro Álvarez’s replacement for his versatility in National League ballparks.
The Orioles spent the winter and spring training trying to find a super-utility player and now they have a couple of sweet choices.
The season could become a place for open auditions as it moves deeper into the summer. Wilkerson is younger than Peterson, but he’s 26. Peterson turned 28 in May. There isn’t much of a gap and they both can bring value to the club in 2019 due to their ability to play a variety of positions.
Wilkerson will be deserving of a longer look. He played in only 16 games with Norfolk after returning from his suspension. He could go back to the Tides and continue to move around the infield and outfielder while also honing his catching skills on the side in case of an emergency.
It shouldn’t be forgotten in all the madness last night that Wilkerson saved the game for the Orioles by charging Dansby Swanson’s slow roller and throwing him out to end the 14th inning and strand a runner at third. It was a big-time play.
Don’t read too much into Beckham’s start at shortstop last night. The Orioles aren’t on the brink of trading Manny Machado. But what happens to Beckham after Machado is gone?
It might depend on the return for Machado. If it includes a major league-ready shortstop, Beckham would be the regular third baseman as projected all along and Danny Valencia would be a backup at the infield corners and get some at-bats as the designated hitter and pinch-hitter versus left-handed pitching. Also as projected before Beckham’s injury created an opportunity for Valencia to start at third, which he seized by becoming one of the few offensive threats in the lineup.
The alternative would be to return Beckham to shortstop, his position of choice, and keep playing Peterson and Valencia at third base. That’s contingent on Valencia staying with the team. He’s played himself into potential trade chip status.
(The Atlanta media didn’t camp out at Machado’s locker yesterday to gauge his interest in playing for the Braves. Not a single reporter staked him out. I brought popcorn for the show and ... nothing.)
Peterson could start at third base this afternoon with the Braves sending right-hander Julio Teheran to the mound, or he could start in left field if Trey Mancini’s neck tightens again. Mancini pinch-hit last night and struck out. He didn’t stroll to home plate wearing a brace.
Colby Rasmus should get back in the lineup in right field after homering Thursday night in his first at-bat since coming off the disabled list. He struck out in his first two at-bats last night after entering the game in a double switch, but he singled and scored in the 15th.
What was Machado looking for when hitting the tie-breaking home run in the 15th?
“Go home,” he said.
“I don’t know. I was just trying to get (Craig Gentry) in, trying to get a base hit. Gentry, I know anything in the outfield he’s going to score for me, score for anybody obviously, and just trying to get a good pitch to drive and just get a base hit.”
Hard to believe that a 1-0 game in the seventh inning unraveled with such intensity, as the teams combined for 10 runs in the ninth.
“Yeah, that was a tough inning,” Machado said. “Scored a couple runs there, and then Zach (Britton) comes in and you know? The ball wasn’t going anywhere a little bit. They got a couple hits. They fought back and after that it was just a rodeo, you know? See who tries to score first.
“It’s just one of those weird games that you just have to kind of just relax and try to look for that one big hit, that one big inning like we did. It’s going to take a little bit, but at the end of the day we held our ground and came out with a W.”
“It was odd watching it unfold when I came out,” said Alex Cobb, who held the Braves to one run over seven innings. “Good team over there. They put together a good string of productive at-bats. I can’t really recall what took place, but I know there’s some pretty good back and forth.”
Machado thought the Braves might walk him with first base open.
“It crossed my mind at first,” he said. “But in that situation they probably had faith in (Peter) Moylan right there that he could get some ground balls to the left side of the infield. It was just one of those plays.”
And the ninth was just one of those innings.
“It’s just part of the game in that situation,” Machado said. “You just try and do whatever. You’ve got to fight back. We fought back to get back in that game, and then we scored the runs we needed to in the ninth inning. They came back and id the same. That’s how baseball is. It’s a crazy game and you’ve got to try to fight as much as you can to come out with a W.”
Chris Davis was positioned to be the hero with a home run in the fifth inning that gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead and a sacrifice fly in the ninth that moved them ahead 4-3. He hadn’t played in the last eight games.
“Awesome,” Machado said. “He started off the inning with a nice little walk, then he hit the homer... and played great D. we needed him to do well if we want to be successful and win some games. He’s going to be a big part of this.”
“That was cool,” Cobb said. “Just to see the joy on his face when he came in. People don’t realize the struggles, the kind of toll they take on you as a player. You want to perform so bad every night. Seeing him come up with that hit to lead off, really start the offense for us, it was just fun to see him enjoying the moment.”
Cobb carried a two-hit shutout into the seventh before the Braves tied the game.
“I was feeling pretty good,” he said. “It was one of those days where you throw a pitch and the ball’s actually coming out better than it feels. I was able to really locate both sides of the plate with my fastball. Early on, the changeup was working pretty good and then that kind of went away from me later on in the game and I was able to rely on the curveball.”
Cobb had better command of his fastball last night.
“You notice more when you do make mistakes over the middle of the plate. They’re not usually line drive hits. They’re usually ground balls that if they don’t find somebody, they’re just right out of reach,” Cobb said.
“Getting ground balls on mistake pitches really tells me that my delivery is in line and the ball’s coming out the right way.”