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
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.”