BALTIMORE — Over the first three weeks of the season, the Orioles couldn’t beat anybody en route to the second worst start in franchise history.
So, of course, with the world champion New York Yankees coming to town, why not turn to the Norfolk Tides, the team’s Triple-A affiliate, for help?
They certainly couldn’t do any worse.
Alfredo Simon, Alberto Castillo, and Rhyne Hughes weren’t exactly sure bets to be in Baltimore when the season started three weeks ago, but desperate times—especially for manager Dave Trembley—call for desperate measures when you’re 3-16.
With a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth, Trembley turned to Simon to close out the victory despite the right-hander being recalled just a few hours before the game on Tuesday. It was both an incredible vote of confidence for Simon and a sign of indignation for a bullpen having failed countless times over the season’s first 19 games.
Some shaky defense made it interesting—to no one’s surprise at this point—but Simon earned his first big-league save and the Orioles their first home victory of the season in a 5-4 final.
“I’ve got nothing to lose,” said Trembley, whose seat is as hot as it gets without being jettisoned from his post. “The team’s got nothing to lose.”
Trembley’s days may be numbered as Orioles manager, but no one can question his willingness to open himself to criticism after the bewildering decision to throw Simon into a save situation after the 28-year-old had not pitched in the major leagues since last April. After earning a spot in the starting rotation to begin 2009, Simon underwent season-ending elbow surgery after only two starts.
Despite the surprising nature of the decision, Simon had been discussed as an option in the late innings 10 days ago in a conversation with general manager Andy MacPhail, according to Trembley. Simon’s fastball was consistently in the mid-90s as he struck out Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter for two of the three outs in the ninth.
“I talked to him before the game, and I asked him one question and one question only: ‘Are you scared?’, and he said, ‘No’, and that’s all I had to hear,” said Trembley, who confirmed he planned to used Simon in a save situation hours before the game.
Simon may have never received the opportunity if not for the stellar work of left-handed reliever Alberto Castillo, who pitched 1.2 innings and struck out three to earn the victory. Castillo also recorded two outs in the win over Boston on Sunday.
“Castillo continues to throw strikes and get big outs,” Trembley said. “He shows tremendous confidence. I think that’s the key for him.”
At least on Tuesday night, Trembley found two relievers from Triple-A doing something nearly his entire bullpen has been unable to do this season: throw strikes and get batters out. As the manager said in his pre-game comments, now is the time for players to earn their opportunities and produce when they’re granted.
And after Hughes received his third straight start at first base Tuesday night—and picked up the game-tying RBI single in the sixth—the Orioles have now won consecutive games for the first time this season, thanks in large part to the contributions of three players completely off everyone’s radar just three short weeks ago.
“Until you actually give people an opportunity and you see them in a big league game and in a big league environment, then you don’t know,” said Trembley. “And that’s the beauty of the game. Somebody can always step up. Somebody can always do something special. Never count anybody out.”
Now with a 4-16 record through the first 20 games of the season, it’s painfully apparent how rarely it’s happened for the Orioles over the first three weeks. While injuries have certainly played a part, it very simply boils down to a group of players and a manager not getting the job done for a plethora of reasons.
Perhaps the contributions of three relative unknowns can provide a wake-up call to a roster that has slept through the start of the season.
Of course, it is ONLY two wins, but those two wins doubled the total the club had just 72 hours ago.
We all knew this club would start to play better at some point. It wasn’t going to go 20-142 this season (right?).
Whether they can build on it with any kind of sustained success remains to be seen.
“We’ve got a winning streak,” said Adam Jones, with an uneasy laugh. “It’s two games. That sounds good. We’ve got to come out tomorrow [and do it again]; today’s game’s over with.”
Check out the box score right here and the pre-game notes below.
BALTIMORE — Good evening from Oriole Park at Camden Yards where the Orioles (3-16) are preparing to commence a three-game set against the world champion New York Yankees (12-6) tonight at 7:05 p.m.
Here are tonight’s lineups:
SS Derek Jeter
LF Brett Gardner
1B Mark Teixeira
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
C Jorge Posada
CF Curtis Granderson
DH Nick Swisher
RF Randy Winn
SP Phil Hughes (2-0, 2.19 ERA)
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
C Matt Wieters
3B Miguel Tejada
DH Luke Scott
2B Ty Wigginton
1B Rhyne Hughes
LF Nolan Reimold
SS Cesar Izturis
SP Kevin Millwood (0-3, 3.38 ERA)
As always, don’t forget to join us in the Orange Crush chat for tonight’s game. The cyber bar opens at 7:00 with a variety of WNST personalities checking in throughout the evening.
Remember to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the quickest updates and analysis.
Check back here for updates (time-stamped below) leading up to tonight’s first pitch. I’ll be back shortly with some pre-game notes, including some very impassioned statements from Dave Trembley.
6:55 p.m. — Please join us in the Orange Crush chat at 7:00. Bob Haynie is your host tonight, and I’ll be chiming in throughout the evening.
6:30 p.m. — After winning the final game of the series in Boston, the Orioles are clearly desperate to get the six-game home stand off to a good start against the Yankees. With a 3-16 record and already 11 games out of first place, this week might be the final opportunity to create any kind of sustained interest moving forward in 2010.
The issues surrounding this club are well-documented, from the poor situational hitting to the wildly ineffective bullpen, so the urgency needs to be there for both the manager and players to perform well at home.
Of course, a 7-29 record against the Yankees and Red Sox in 2009 doesn’t exactly bring any optimism that the Orioles will be able to do that.
Judging from his pre-game comments, it’s clear Trembley feels the urgency. We’ll see if it translates into any wins this week.
5:40 p.m. — While no official word has been given, all signs point to Brad Bergesen returning to Baltimore to make the start against the Boston Red Sox on Saturday. After being thoroughly annihilated in his first three starts (0-2, 12.19 ERA), the righty was sent down to Norfolk to work on his mechanics and to simply rebuild some confidence after clearly being frustrated in his last start in Seattle last week.
In his one start for Norfolk over the weekend, Bergesen pitched seven strong innings, allowing seven hits and two earned runs. The young pitcher has declared himself fit to return, but it’s hard to say all is well after one minor league start.
Though Bergesen claims to have made a few slight adjustments in his mechanics, my biggest concern lies with his confidence. Throwing him back into the fire against the Red Sox on Saturday doesn’t sound like the most hospitable environment, but I suppose the organization will give Bergesen the benefit of the doubt after a largely successful rookie season.
Perhaps we’ll see the 2009 version of the sinkerball pitcher, but what do you do if Bergesen gets lit up on Saturday? If it were my club, I’d err on the side of caution by leaving him in Triple A for another start or two before signing off on his return.
Keep in mind, Simon was a member of the starting rotation to begin the 2009 season before the elbow injury, so why not consider a spot start for him on Saturday? If you’re looking for a more exciting alternative, young righty Jake Arrieta—a member of the much-hyped triumvirate that includes Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman—has a 0.36 ERA in four starts at Norfolk.
Very simply, other options are out there if the club wants to take its time with Bergesen, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
5:15 p.m. — Trembley was very upfront in his pre-game comments, touching on a variety of topics from the unsettled closer role to the diminished playing time of first baseman Garrett Atkins (out of the lineup for the third straight game).
The Orioles manager made it clear the closer role is wide open, citing a need for pitchers to seize the opportunity when given the ball. It’s clear Trembley is desperate for results as his job security continues to remain in serious doubt.
Trembley would not even rule out the possibility of newly-recalled righty Alfredo Simon getting the ball in a save situation in the near future.
Of course, if you’re on the WNST Text Service, you already know Simon’s contract was purchased from Triple-A Norfolk and Kam Mickolio was optioned to Triple A. Because Simon was not on the 40-man roster, the Orioles have designated left-handed reliever Wilfrido Perez for assignment. Though Perez’s name has been discussed over the last year or so as a future option in the pen, his 10.80 ERA at Double-A Bowie forced Andy MacPhail to make a move.
Rhyne Hughes will get his third straight start at first base, once again relegating Atkins to the bench. Trembley very plainly stated it was a matter of going with the hottest bat after Hughes went 4-for-9 with 2 RBI in Boston.
The right-handed Atkins will receive a start tomorrow night when star lefty CC Sabathia takes the hill for the New Yorkers.
In other news, second baseman Brian Roberts was examined at Johns Hopkins on Monday and is still not cleared to resume baseball activity. It’s clear Roberts’ return is not happening any time soon considering he would likely have a rehab stint in the minors before returning to the major league club.
Also on the injury front, closer Mike Gonzalez has yet to go on a throwing program in Sarasota. Both he and Roberts were eligible to return from the disabled list this week.