Subs are fill­ing in ad­e­quately but have not given O’s a lift

Showal­ter hopes solid work by re­place­ments can keep club in play­off con­tention

Baltimore Sun - - ORIOLES - By Jon Me­oli jme­oli@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/JonMe­oli

In­juries put ev­ery team in a tough spot over the course of a base­ball sea­son, but in dis­cussing the ones that have hurt the Ori­oles re­cently, man­ager Buck Showal­ter con­ceded they haven’t been able to brush off their losses in 2016 as well as they have in the past.

“We’ve done a good job in the past of not just hold­ing the fort, but ac­tu­ally mak­ing leaps with the op­por­tu­ni­ties peo­ple are get­ting that haven’t nor­mally got­ten them,” Showal­ter said. “We’ve had some of that this year, but not as much as prob­a­bly we need. That says a lot about some of the depth that we’ve been chal­lenged with.”

In 2014, when the Ori­oles won their first di­vi­sion ti­tle in 17 years, ca­reer years from play­ers such as Steve Pearce and Caleb Joseph gave the club a boost when stars were in­jured. The team has also sum­moned pitch­ers such as Miguel Gon­za­lez when needs arose.

There are myr­iad ex­am­ples of the Ori­oles need­ing a player to fill in for an in­jured starter this year — none more ev­i­dent than the one that played out Tues­day night.

Their most re­li­able and con­sis­tent starter, Chris Till­man, is on the dis­abled list for just the sec­ond time in his ca­reer with shoul­der bur­si­tis, so the Ori­oles turned to hu­man grab-bag Ubaldo Jimenez to give them a chance in Till­man’s ro­ta­tion spot against the first­place Toronto Blue Jays.

Tues­day’s was Jimenez’s sec­ond solid start in suc­ces­sion, fol­low­ing a good per­for­mance Thurs­day in a loss to the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als when he al­lowed one run on five hits in six in­nings. Against the Blue Jays he al­lowed three runs on five hits in 62⁄ in­nings to lower his still-bloated ERA to 6.46. He didn’t get the de­ci­sion but helped the Ori­oles se­cure a much-needed 5-3 win.

Jimenez’s rep­u­ta­tion is that of a pitcher who will be good for half of ev­ery sea­son. Twice with the Ori­oles in three years, his ter­ri­ble first halves have made the pos­si­bil­ity of a good sec­ond half moot, as he has been ban­ished to the bullpen and sel­dom used. Last sea­son, he was good in the first half and again in Septem­ber. Per­haps this year, the op­por­tu­nity to start two or three times in place of Till­man will show that the sec­ond half is Jimenez’s half.

If you ac­cept that you aren’t go­ing to get any­thing from a rhythm pitcher who can some­times strug­gle to find his de­liv­ery out of the bullpen, then fo­cus on his starts. He has three good ones since the All-Star break. It’s not a lot to go on, but even with the re­lief prob­lems, he has a 3.25 sec­ond-half ERA.

Jimenez’s in­jury-re­place­ment role might be the fresh­est on ev­ery­one’s mind, but Showal­ter will have other things he can point to when try­ing to back up his state­ment that fill-ins have just held the fort.

The sea­son be­gan with Kevin Gaus­man out for a few weeks as he came back from shoul­der ten­dini­tis. Dur­ing that stretch, Vance Wor­ley made two starts with a 5.06 ERA, though the Ori­oles won both games. Gaus­man re­turned around the time Yo­vani Gal­lardo went out with shoul­der weak­ness. Wor­ley then went to the bullpen and Tyler Wil­son joined the ro­ta­tion.

Wil­son went 3-5 with a 4.58 ERA in 10 starts while Gal­lardo was out — bet­ter than Gal­lardo has been in 13 starts since — and made three more starts be­fore be­ing sent to the mi­nors.

The other player that has needed cover on the pitch­ing staff has been setup man Dar­ren O’Day, who missed more than seven weeks in June and July with a ham­string in­jury and is now out with a ro­ta­tor cuff strain. In his ab­sence, young right-han­der My­chal Givens has pitched well this sea­son in high-lever­age sit­u­a­tions, though the Ori­oles have been one back-end reliever short. Com­pound­ing that prob­lem is their re­liance on O’Day against left­handed hitters, a role re­cently taken up by rookie Don­nie Hart but a con­cern for the team.

Among po­si­tion play­ers, the Ori­oles have been for­tu­nate to have had only a hand­ful of longterm in­juries to starters. In the ab­sence of J.J. Hardy, who missed seven weeks with a foot frac­ture, Manny Machado moved to short­stop and Ryan Flaherty took over at third base. Flaherty hit .236 with three home runs in 40 games be­tween Hardy’s in­jury and Machado’s sub­se­quent sus­pen­sion for fight­ing, which came right af­ter that. Hardy was bat­ting .244 when he was in­jured, and the de­fense didn’t miss a beat.

Catcher Matt Wi­eters needed a week to get over a bruised foot, and Joseph hit .350 (7-for-20) in six games in his stead. When Adam Jones missed time early with a back prob­lem, rookie Joey Rickard filled in well. Now that Jones is out with a groin in­jury and Rickard is let­ting a torn thumb lig­a­ment re­cover, it’s Nolan Reimold in cen­ter field.

All have been ad­e­quate re­place­ments, but most have done lit­tle more than hold the fort. As Showal­ter noted, the team has not ex­pe­ri­enced a surge be­cause of the re­place­ments. Solid ef­forts by re­place­ments can keep a team in play­off con­tention, though. That’s what the Ori­oles are hop­ing for now.

“It is [a boost], as long as there’s some end game you’re try­ing to get to,” Showal­ter said. “Hey, let’s hold the fort down so now we get this back and we get back at full strength. At some point, you want to get an Adam back, an O’Day back, a Rickard back — I’ll tell you, Rickard was a kick in the pants for us — a Till­man back.

“But they’re not go­ing to feel sorry for you when they get through play­ing the an­them. They re­ally aren’t. No­body is. The peo­ple who come to the game ex­pect — our fans have high ex­pec­ta­tions and that’s what we want them to have. But it’s tough on a team when you’re con­tin­u­ally do­ing it and you don’t see an end game. But there is one. We’re go­ing to get Adam back at some point, we’re go­ing to get Till­man back at some point, we’re go­ing to get O’Day back and Rickard back.”

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