A 44th win in the 152nd game of the season can only hold so many positives. The rest may seem forced.
However, manager Buck Showalter could appreciate last night how a team with so many inexperienced and unproven components played such a crisp game in defeating the Blue Jays 2-1. The long walk down the hallway that leads to the interview room didn’t seem like it stretched for miles.
Jimmy Yacabonis works four scoreless innings in his fifth major league start. DJ Stewart hits his first major league home run and double and scores both runs. Cedric Mullins singles while batting from the right side to drive in a huge insurance run. Tanner Scott retires the only batters he faces on one pitch to preserve a slim lead.
The defense didn’t commit an error. The bullpen didn’t implode. And the loss total held at 108, which is eight more than the Royals with 10 games remaining.
“It had a feel for some games that we played here up until (September) last year,” Showalter said.
“When we go into the advance room, we have these meetings under the cloak of an advance meeting, but there is a lot messages there that get delivered in there and that’s one of them. We go back through and, OK, what allowed us to do that?
“It will be something about Cedric’s foot speed and the depth of the third baseman. Or it will be, yesterday we had a hit-and-run on and we had to whistle a guy out of the batter’s box and the guy at first looked at (Wayne) Kirby as soon as the sign went on. In regular situations, you’re going to get a pitchout or throw over because of your body language. Those are things you go over of the game within the game. The things we’ve been real good at here that we haven’t been.
“Actually, it’s kind of revealing when we go in these things how much these guys are looking forward to it because it’s not all beating up on them. A lot of it is, ‘OK, here’s something that went on good that we got this type of return for.”
* Showalter thought about letting Scott come back out for the ninth and face switch-hitting Kendrys Morales, but he called upon Mychal Givens, who retired the side in order without breaking a sweat for his eighth save.
“I considered letting Tanner face Morales, but as we go forward I thought it was important, Mike needs to be able to attack those hitters and get that job done there,” Showalter said.
“That was as good of command as he’s had, his last two or three (outings). You go back through it, he actually threw the ball where he was trying to throw it.”
* Scott made his major league debut exactly one year ago today, allowing two runs and two hits and walking two batters in an inning against the Red Sox at Camden Yards. He followed it up by retiring both Tampa Bay batters he faced with one strikeout on Sept. 23.
Scott’s had an uneven season, at times utterly dominant and others more hittable and unable to command his upper-90s fastball with the same consistency. His slider has become a strikeout pitch - until it isn’t. But he turned 24 in July remains one of the more intriguing pitching prospects in the organization.
He’s just taken his education to the highest level.
“He’s better this year than he was last year. If you look at just about every year with Tanner, he’s gotten a little better each year,” Showalter said.
“I challenge him a lot to be an athlete. He’s a guy you can take in the weight room and test out and he’ll dunk a basketball probably flat-footed. He’ll jump up on high boxes, he’ll sprint, he’ll leg lift and this, that and whatever. He’s a really good athlete, but it hasn’t always parlayed into pitching. And I challenge him a lot, ‘All you do and all the mechanical stuff, you get out there, pitch. You’re a baseball player. Go compete. Get lost in the competition.’
“But the slider’s gotten better and the stretches of ineffectiveness have been shorter. I think he’s come to grips that he’s not always going to sit out there and throw 98 by somebody. He understands it. And he’s gotten over the, not intimidation or ego with that, but just, OK, it’s part of being up here but if I can make them really honor the slider, then the fastball really plays because of the velocity.”
Scott had registered a 5.63 ERA and 1.563 WHIP in 48 appearances before his one-pitch performance last night and was averaging 4.5 walks and 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
The Orioles are working to bring more deception to Scott’s fastball.
“There’s something I know we tried with his hands,” Showalter said, “the way he pushes as opposed to ... That really makes for an inconsistent delivery.”
* Jonathan Villar has appeared in 44 games with the Orioles and he’s already their stolen base leader with 15. He had 14 with the Brewers before the July 31 trade.
Jace Peterson is second among current players with 11, one fewer than the departed Craig Gentry. Adam Jones is third with seven steals in eight attempts - the same total and percentage he registered in 2014.
On a team that’s preferred to circle the bases rather than get the green light on them, Jones has reached double digits in steals in five seasons. He set a career high with 16 back in 2012 while playing in 162 games.
From 2015-17, Jones was successful on seven of nine attempts while pulling his running game to the curb.
Maybe it’s Villar’s influence that’s getting to him. His first attempt didn’t come until July 7 in Minnesota.
“I think a little bit, and I think it’s there some,” Showalter said. “After a while people kind of forget that Adam could do that.
“Maybe a little bit. And they kind of relax some with him now.”
Don’t sleep on Jones. That’s the message here.
* Stewart picked up his first major league hit and stolen base Tuesday night and hit his first home run and double last night. He’s trending upward.
“Like I said yesterday, I wasn’t really pressing, but it’s always a relief when you can get the first one out of the way and then to come out here to have that confidence going into the game that you’re still feeling really well,” Stewart said. “And then going over the wall, that’s got to give you more confidence. Just happy to come out here and help our team.”
He’s a baseball player, as Showalter likes to call him and others of his ilk. It may seem obvious based on the uniform, the chosen profession, but there’s true meaning here.
The Orioles were debating whether to select Stewart’s contract or the one belonging to outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, who’s four years older and was drafted 13 rounds after Stewart.
Yastrzemski is the better outfielder and he hit .265/.359/.441 with 18 doubles, six triples, nine home runs and 49 RBIs in 94 games after moving up to Triple-A Norfolk. It would have been a nice reward - he appeared to be on the fast track to the majors before health and declining production conspired against him - but he stayed home.
Being a first-round pick worked in Stewart’s favor, and it also made sense to evaluate someone who rated as the higher prospect. And Stewart had to go on the 40-man roster before the Rule 5 draft.
* Mark Trumbo has been a regular at Camden Yards since his knee surgery. He hasn’t returned to his locker while the media is inside the clubhouse, but the athletic training staff is monitoring his recovery.
Trumbo is still on crutches. I saw him coming down the hallway yesterday, moving at a more rapid pace than I’d achieve, and he said that he’s feeling good.
The Orioles aren’t sure whether Trumbo will be ready on opening day and they must act accordingly in the off-season while putting together their 25-man roster.
* Wynns broke his bat last night on a swing and miss in the seventh inning.
Snapped it in two pieces. And not because he was trying.
Wynns didn’t break it over his knee. The force of his swing left him holding the handle while the barrel laid on the ground.
The MASN camera showed Wynns smiling as he walked back to the dugout for new lumber.
The tag was every bit as impressive after taking Jones’ throw from right field. Wynns had to play the ball on one hop to the first base side of the plate and reach across to complete the double play.
* Anyone heard from Ubaldo Jiménez? How about Seth Smith?