Orioles news, notes and opinions
I’m not exactly breaking news when I point out that manager Buck Showalter has a reputation for being controlling, rigid and tough on players, especially young ones who make mental mistakes. The first-year Orioles had heard all those things before they reported to spring training. However, several of them have said since that they’ve found Showalter to be nothing like that. Instead, they say that he’s been a player’s manager, allowing the veterans plenty of leeway, not throwing anybody under the bus in the press, and sticking with his players even when they are struggling. I bring this up because I think Showalter deserves credit for giving Blake Davis a second straight start after the second baseman made an error that allowed the game-tying and game-winning runs to score in the Orioles’ loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates Wednesday. Showalter took some heat for playing Davis at second base when the 27-year-old hadn’t played there all year. By playing him there again, Showalter not only showed faith in Davis, who had all of Thursday’s off day to think about his gaffe and responded by getting two hits, including a two-run triple, and making a nice running catch, but he sent a message to the rest of the clubhouse that he has the player’s backs. There is nothing worse for an inexperienced big leaguer to make a mistake and then be chained to the bench. Showalter didn’t allow that, and trust me, players notice such things. He’s done several things this year to send a similar message. He went to owner Peter Angelos to get the organization’s facial hair rules relaxed. He’s stuck up for Felix Pie several times after the outfielder made a mistake. He’s allowed players to take batting practice in shorts on a couple of really hot days, and he’s refused to bury some of the accomplished veterans by benching them or dropping them to the bottom of the lineup. Giving Davis another start was the latest example.
When I talked to Derrek Lee on Tuesday for a story that ran in yesterday’s paper, the veteran first baseman expressed frustration with not his low batting average, but his nonexistent home run and RBI numbers. He admitted that he just hasn’t found his home run swing and he cautioned that when he does, the long balls will come in bunches. The Orioles can only hope that his game-winning shot in the 12th last night is the start of one of those stretches. The homer and the double that he smoked earlier in the game were two of the hardest hit balls that I’ve seen him hit all year. Perhaps, it was just a coincidence that they came in front of Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker, who told my colleague, Peter Schmuck, before the game that Oriole fans shouldn’t be worried about Lee’s slow start. “He’s a second-half player,” said Baker, who managed Lee with the Chicago Cubs. “He’s a long away from being through.”
When the Orioles didn’t score in the bottom of the 11th inning despite having a runner on second and one out, center fielder Adam Jones angrily threw something in the dugout. I didn’t see what because you can only see so far into the dugout from my pressbox seat. When the Orioles lost to the Pirates on Wednesday, Jones expressed his frustration on his Twitter account. Look, I don’t know that going to Twitter to vent is the most constructive thing to do, but I’ll say this about Jones: I don’t know if there is another player in that clubhouse that gets as ticked off about losing as he does. And that’s one of the qualities that I think Oriole fans should love about him. Sure, he’s an emotional kid and he may not always handle the frustration in the best manner. But I’ve always thought that the Orioles need more players with that attitude. I’m sure everybody in that clubhouse hates losing, but I don’t know that anybody has more utter disdain for it than Jones does. He cares about his own performance, he cares about his teammates and he very much cares about winning and losing. Those are just a couple of reasons why he’s quickly emerging as the leader of this team.
Speaking of the bottom of the 11th, this isn’t really a second guess because I mentioned it in the pressbox before it happened, but if I were Showalter, I would have asked Nick Markakis to sacrifice bunt with J.J. Hardy on second base and no outs. Markakis curiously swung at the first pitch and made no attempt to hit the ball to the right side to move up the runner, grounding out to third instead, an at-bat Showalter called an unusual one for the Orioles right fielder. Showalter said that he considered asking Markakis to bunt, but it’s something that he’s never done much of and with Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips on the right side of Reds’ the infield, the Orioles manager liked the odds of Markakis getting a hit or driving a ball to the right side better. My thought was Markakis can handle the bat well enough to bunt and he’s hitting just .224 with runners in scoring position this year, so why not take your chances with Hardy on third with one out, and Jones and Vladimir Guerrero coming up. Showalter obviously knows his players and every aspect of the game better than I do, but that’s what I would have done.
You can bet Reds executives are watching the Orioles closely during this series because the two teams are actually a pretty good fit for a potential trade. The Reds could use an upgrade at shortstop over Paul Janish, and another solid veteran starting pitcher. J.J. Hardy and Jeremy Guthrie are two Orioles that will surely intrigue them. The Orioles need a young first baseman, which the Reds have in Yonder Alonso, who is blocked by Votto, the reigning National League MVP. They could also use a couple of more position prospects and the Reds have them in Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier among others. The trade market is still about two weeks from heating up, but Orioles President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail and Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty are very close friends. They spent time together yesterday and they’ve swung trades with each other before. It’s certainly something to keep an eye on.
Quick hits: I keep waiting for Jim Johnson and Koji Uehara to shown signs of strain from the heavy workload they’ve had, but they keep on putting up zeroes … It had been 2 ½ years since I had last seen catcher Ramon Hernandez play in person, and I have to say, his demeanor and on-field habits look pretty similar to what I remember. I always thought he was a pretty good hitter and he’s proving that again this year … If Orioles starter Brian Matusz has made some improvement with the quality of his pitches, it will be put to the test tonight. The Reds have a quality right-handed hitting lineup and I can’t imagine that they’ll miss too many 87 miles per hour fastballs over the plate if that’s what Matusz is featuring … If the Pirates can figure out a way to beat Boston Red Sox lefty Jon Lester, like they did last night, there is no reason why the Orioles shouldn’t be able to. As good as he is, that Lester is 14-0 against the Orioles in 17 career starts is ridiculous … Several players remarked how awesome the atmosphere was at sold out Camden Yards last night. I’ll second that. I know it can’t be union or fireworks night every night, but the electricity in the crowd really made for an enjoyable night.