Orioles shortstop Richie Martin followed manager Brandon Hyde to the mound yesterday in the top of the ninth inning and the same thought popped into minds across the ballpark and inside the press box.
The Rule 5 kid was going to pitch.
Two weeks into the season and Hyde had to use a position player to pitch, the 10th time it’s happened to the Orioles, most recently with Jace Peterson on Sept. 26 against the Red Sox.
Peterson’s fastball topped out at 92.5 mph. Alberto’s heater kept coming in at 74 mph, making it register on the stadium gun as a curveball.
“I didn’t want to throw too hard because I know I’m not a pitcher and don’t want to get hurt,” he said. “Just try to get out of the inning.”
The Orioles were trying to escape with their lives. The bullpen is a mess because it can’t settle into any sort of a routine or rhythm. And because of some really underwhelming performances.
Hyde is finding it increasingly difficult to cover innings, his trips to the mound beginning to wear a path, and it’s early April. Going to a 13-man staff is supposed to provide its own relief.
The rotation has posted a 4.23 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 38 1/3 innings and opponents are batting .232. The bullpen ranks 27th with a 7.97 ERA and 1.97 WHIP in 40 2/3 innings, the second-highest total in the American League. Opponents are batting .333, worst in the league and second-highest in the majors, behind the Nationals (.365).
The Orioles have surrendered 23 home runs, including seven yesterday, their second-highest total in a game in team history. They gave up 10 against the Blue Jays on Sept. 14, 1987.
Hyde didn’t run out of pitchers yesterday before turning to Alberto. He was just trying to avoid using a few of them because, as Buck Showalter always did, he also had to consider tonight’s game and how John Means is making his first major league start on Tuesday.
Guys who were kept idle yesterday will be able to pitch over the next two nights if needed. It’s smart managing. But it also takes a strong stomach because no one enjoys watching a position player getting knocked around or missing the plate by 10 feet.
More changes could be coming. The Orioles aren’t afraid of them. Consider how they designated Pedro Araujo for assignment after one outing.
It’s especially dicey for anyone without options.
Hyde indicated yesterday that Alberto might have spared the Orioles from making a roster move before tonight’s series opener against the Athletics at Camden Yards. He took one for the team.
“I definitely was thinking that during the game,” Hyde said, “but then Hanser picked us up, so it’s something we’re going to discuss after this.”
A 15-3 loss can leave a mark, especially on younger players and during a streak that’s reached four games, but the Orioles are in full agreement that they have to move on and embrace a fresh opportunity tonight.
“You hope that you shake this off and you come back,” Hyde said. “Baseball’s a beautiful thing. You’ve got one tomorrow night, Oakland will be coming into town. I think we’ll be ready to go and I think our guys will get over it quickly and move on to tomorrow.”
“There are going to be games like that, so now we’ve got to forget about today and get ready for tomorrow,” Alberto said. “New series, new team. Try to go out there and have fun. Like every day we go out there, play hard, do our best and, hopefully, there are good things coming.”
Better pitching is required or the results won’t change. The Orioles will get failing grades against the A’s.
Too many favorable counts end with baseballs soaring over the fence and catchers bolting out of their crouches and ripping off their masks.
“I just see misses, that’s what I see,” Hyde said. “I see misses in bad spots on the plate when they have an advantageous count and not being able to put a guy away. And understanding when you have a good major league hitter, to be able to understand there are spots that I’m not going to go to and this is where I’m going.
“When we’ve gotten hurt this first week it’s been leak backs in the middle, if we’re trying to elevate, not elevating enough. Sliders that catch too much of the plate when we have the advantage. Those types of things. It’s not our stuff, it’s about being able to execute the stuff. And to be able to compete at a high level in this league you have to be able to do that against teams like that. And when you don’t they hit homers, and that’s what these guys did.”