New, old faces make team feel complete
Hunter steadies bullpen; Pearce, Stubbs, Bourn shore up outfield
Coming out of their Sept. 1 day off, the Orioles have had an upbeat feeling. Before Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the New York Yankees, manager Buck Showalter, in a roundabout way, pointed out why.
Between their bench additions and the return of key contributors from their 2014 American League East championship team, it seems the 2016 Orioles are a complete team for the first time in months.
Start with the bullpen, which has had veteran Tommy Hunter raising spirits for a week. Hunter has pitched three times in that span in games that were out of reach, and taken stress off the late-inning trio of Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Mychal Givens. Those three lined up for three scoreless innings behind a superb outing Saturday by Kevin Gausman, in part because they haven’t needed to pitch in other situations recently.
“It’s hard to win a major league game, and it’s hard to have that chain,” Showalter said. “Mychal did his job. Brad did his job. Zach did his job. It all started with Gausman doing his job. That’s why you want to get as deep as you can with a starter, because that chain is hard to have fit every night. And if you’re doing that every night, the pitchers can’t do that physically. You just can’t do that to them.
“That’s what’s been good about getting Tommy here. You just need somebody — they may not go out and get six guys out in a row, but they don’t implode. They take the stress out of a game that you’re way behind or way ahead, and allow you to have some bullets to fight another day. But we’re in that stage of the season where you’re not doing the, ‘Let’s do this for two months down the road.’ If we don’t do it well, we’re not going to have two months down the road. But a lot of things have changed.”
Since Hunter joined the bullpen, the Orioles relievers have combined to allow four earned runs in 172⁄ innings, and the whole outfit seemsto have beenstabilized by his presence onandoff the field.
The other area completed was the outfield, thanks to the July 31 trade for Steve Pearce and the Aug. 31additions of Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn. Pearce added a right-handed bat who is an alternative to Hyun Soo Kim in right field.
Pearce was handed Sunday’s start over Kim because he has a good track record against Yankees starter Michael Pineda, but also because Showalter wanted to get him two starts and keep him involved.
Since being acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays, Pearce has hit .244 with three home runs and an .842 OPS while battling elbow problems. In that same span, Kim has hit .273 with a .715 OPS. It hasn’t been the typical left-right platoon that was expected, however, and Showalter noted how all the recent improvements have given the Orioles a lot of options off the bench that they didn’t have before.
Even if Bourn and Stubbs are here primarily for their defense, the lack of hitters on the bench has also been hard for the Orioles to manage this year. “It’s nice to have both of those guys,” Showalter said. More roster considerations made: Left-hander Brian Duensing was in the Orioles’ clubhouse after Sunday’s game, and Showalter said he’d be added to the roster for today’s game against the Rays.
That will require the creation of a 40-man roster spot, as will another possible move, Showalter said. He mentioned reliever Pedro Beato and infielder Paul Janish as possible non-roster additions. Tillman, O’Day on rehab track: Right-hander Chris Tillman (shoulder bursitis) and reliever Darren O’Day (rotator cuff strain) had bullpen and half-mound sessions, respectively, Sunday, and came through well, the team said. Wieters watch: Catcher Matt Wieters was hit with a pitch on the right kneecap in the fourth inning Sunday. Showalter said it could be a concern for today.
“That will be sore tomorrow,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see.”