A couple of observations from Orioles’ 6-2 win last night (UPDATE: Lebron DFA'ed)
The focus last night was obviously on the draft signing deadline and the Orioles agreeing to terms with top pick Dylan Bundy, along with second-rounder Jason Esposito and sixth-rounder Nicky Delmonico. Orioles Director of Amateur Scouting Joe Jordan said it best in a conference call late last night, when he proclaimed, “I don't know how the hell it could have been a better day."
The good sentiment reached out to Oakland where the Orioles erased a 2-1 seventh-inning deficit against the Athletics to win 6-2, taking back-to-back games for the first time since mid July. Because I’m sure much of your attention was on the draft negotiations and I think it’s time to talk about something else for a couple of hours, here are a couple of observations from the game.
Tommy Hunter certainly won’t wow you with his stuff. Last night, he took some lumps, allowing a career-high 10 hits, including four straight to start the second inning. With how hard Oakland was hitting the ball off him, I wondered if he would even get out of that inning. Not only did he, allowing only two runs in the process, he pitched gamely into the seventh. The more I watch him, the more I think that he could be a pretty solid starter for this club. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting he’s the guy who is going to go toe-to-toe with CC Sabathia and out-duel Jon Lester. He won’t send shivers up the spines of Yankee and Red Sox hitters. The Orioles still need a guy at the top of the rotation that will do those things. But I think Hunter will eat a ton of innings, compete hard, throw strikes and give the Orioles a chance to win on many nights. If he’s pitching near the back of next year’s rotation, the Orioles could do a lot worse. Now, they just need somebody to pitch at the front of it.
It really is a shame that with only a month and a half left in Michael Gonzalez’s career with the club, the Orioles are finally starting to see the pitcher that they presented with a two-year, $12 million deal, and the closer’s role. Gonzalez was nasty last night, retiring the potential tying run Hideki Matsui on one pitch to end the seventh, and then striking out the side on 12 pitches to turn in a scoreless eighth. Gonzalez, who threw 11 of his 13 pitches for strikes, completely overmatched Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Brandon Allen with power stuff, prompting second baseman Robert Andino to say, “That’s how I remember [Gonzalez] from when he was with the Braves.” There’s probably nothing Gonzalez can do to salvage his Orioles’ career over the next month a half. However, he hasn’t given up a run in nine straight outings and in 14 of 15. Lefties are also hitting just .220 against him. I’ve heard nothing to support this, but it wouldn’t totally shock me if the Orioles moved him to a contender looking for a second lefty in their bullpen. They obviously wouldn’t get much in return, except maybe a month of salary relief.
First baseman Chris Davis’ ailing shoulder appears to be becoming a concern. The Orioles will have to make a roster move to officially recall Brian Matusz in time for tonight’s start, and manager Buck Showalter said that the decision could be influenced by the health of a couple of position players. I assume he was specifically referring to Davis, who didn’t play last night and continued to get treatment on his shoulder. You would think that the Orioles would demote a reliever because the starters the past two games have gotten relatively deep and they have an off day Thursday, but if Davis is going to miss some more time, it might make sense just to put him on the DL and allow his shoulder to calm down.
Quietly, Matt Wieters had a nice game last night, hitting an absolute bomb for a solo homer to center in the second inning, hitting a liner to the wall in right in the fifth and then drawing a key walk in the Orioles’ decisive four-run seventh. The homer was his first since July 17, and he also threw out a runner stealing for the first time since July 22. To me, he looked fresh for the first time in weeks. He admitted as much, attributing that to the 63 degree temperature at first pitch, the lack of humidity and the off day that he got Sunday. I really think going forward, the Orioles need to bite the bullet and give Wieters more days off. He is a big guy who plays the most demanding position on the field. He also has a ton of responsibility, switch hitting, being a run producer and catching a young staff. It’s admirable that he wants to play every day, but I think he’d be better served taking a few more days off during the season. Former manager Dave Trembley was absolutely crushed for “overusing” Wieters early last season. Wieters wound up starting 121 games behind the plate in 2010. This season, he’s already started 97, which puts him on pace to catch 132 games. That’s a pretty heavy workload.
Third baseman Mark Reynolds had a vintage Mark Reynolds game last night: a walk, two strikeouts and a home run. I know what you're thinking - throw in an error and that would have completed it. Reynolds' homer was his 27th of the season, putting him just four away from trying Tony Batista's franchise record for a third baseman. His two strikeouts give him 140 for the season, just 20 away from tying Mickey Tettleton's record for strikeouts in a season, set in 1990.
(UPDATE): Lost in everything last night, the Orioles have designated right-handed reliever Luis Lebron for assignment to make room for Bundy on the 40-man roster. Lebron, 26, had Tommy John surgery last May, and didn't pitch at all in 2010. He's made seven appearances for short-season Single-A Aberdeen this season, allowing three earned runs on two hits and two walks while striking out eight over seven innings.