Orioles use small ball to top Oakland, 5-1

May 25, 2010 | Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — When an offense struggles as much as the Orioles have to score runs this season, playing small-ball becomes an absolute necessity to have a realistic chance to win on a nightly basis.

As their record reflects, it’s a style of play in which the Orioles have failed miserably in playing through the first quarter of the season, but it worked Tuesday night as they defeated the Oakland Athletics, 5-1.

The Orioles (15-31) went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position but scored their first three runs of the contest without the aid of a hit. The club also drew six walks, one short of its season-high of seven in 2010.

The deciding factor of the game was the sixth when the club plated two runs without registering a hit in the entire inning.

“Four at-bats were key,” manager Dave Trembley said. “Two walks [to Nick Markakis and Miguel Tejada], a wild pitch, and two sac-flies [by Ty Wigginton and Adam Jones]. That was the key to the game.”

Winning 3-1 in the eighth, the Orioles added two insurance runs with Markakis’ third home run of the season and an RBI-double by Matt Wieters to put the game out of reach.

Continuing to face an uncertain future as the Baltimore manager, Trembley has discussed the importance of making things happen when the lineup is scuffling like it has all season.

“Let’s see about playing a little better fundamental baseball,” said Trembley about his message to the players prior to Tuesday’s game.

For at least one night, it seemed to work.

Guthrie labors

Though struggling to find a good rhythm through much of the evening, starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie earned his third victory of the season after allowing one run in six innings despite command issues and consistently pitching with men on base.

Having thrown 66 pitches in his first three innings, the right-hander settled in to retire eight of the last 10 batters he faced to improve his record to 3-4 in 2010. Guthrie’s 114 pitches was his second-highest total of the season.

“It’s a confidence boost to know you don’t have to be at your best to [win],” said Guthrie, who has now won three of his last four starts.

Homer drought ends

Having not hit a home run since May 1, Markakis went deep in the bottom of the eight to pad the Orioles’ lead and temporarily appease those wondering what’s happened to the right fielder’s power numbers.

Though his 13 doubles and .417 on-base percentage lead the club, Markakis is on pace to set a career-low in home runs through the season’s first 46 games.

“It is what it is,” he said about the lack of long balls on his stat line. “You just have to go up there with a good approach every time.”

Battered Birds

The injury bug has bitten the Orioles so severely, they now have multiple players getting hurt on the same play.

After relievers Koji Uehara and Alfredo Simon were placed on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday, designated hitter Luke Scott was a late scratch with a strained left shoulder.

Scott jammed his shoulder diving for a grounder in the 10th inning of Sunday’s game against the Nationals, the same play in which Simon suffered a hamstring covering first base.

“He said he really couldn’t swing [during batting practice],” Trembley said after the game.

Garrett Atkins was inserted as the designated hitter for Scott.

Odds & ends

Jones singled in the second inning to extend his career-high hitting streak to 11 games, the longest streak by an Orioles hitter this season. … Markakis has reached safely in 41 of 46 games this season. … Brothers Corey Patterson and Eric Patterson started in left field on opposite sides tonight, marking the first time the Orioles were involved in a game with brothers playing against each other since June 10, 2004 when Jerry Hairston and Scott Hairston played at Camden Yards. … Atkins singled in the seventh inning to snap an 0-for-18 streak but has now gone 47 games with a home run, extending a career-high. … Tuesday night’s paid attendance was 14,686.

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BALTIMORE — Good evening from a warm (thank goodness) Oriole Park at Camden Yards as the Orioles (14-31) return home for a brief three-game homestand against the Oakland Athletics (23-22) after an off day on Monday.

Despite rampant speculation over his job security (or lack there of), Dave Trembley is still the Orioles manager, but the question remains how long. With Koji Uehara (elbow) and Alfredo Simon (hamstring) being placed on the 15-day disabled list, the Orioles have recalled lefty reliever Alberto Castillo and selected the contract of Norfolk closer Frank Mata to retool a gassed bullpen.

The biggest news of the day was the move of starter David Hernandez to the bullpen, paving the way for right-hander Chris Tillman to make Saturday’s start in Toronto. While Dave Trembley would not officially say Tillman would take the hill against the Blue Jays, all indications point to the 22-year-old making his first start in 2010 after receiving a 12-start stint in Baltimore last season.

Here are tonight’s lineups:

Oakland
SS Cliff Pennington
1B Daric Barton
RF Ryan Sweeney
C Kurt Suzuki
DH Jack Cust
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
CF Gabe Gross
2B Mark Ellis
LF Eric Patterson

SP Dallas Braden (4-4, 3.45 ERA)

Baltimore (Updated: Luke Scott is a late scratch with a strained shoulder)
LF Corey Patterson
2B Julio Lugo
RF Nick Markakis
3B Miguel Tejada
1B Ty Wigginton
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
DH Garrett Atkins
SS Cesar Izturis

SP Jeremy Guthrie (2-4, 3.86 ERA)

Don’t forget to join us in the Orange Crush chat tonight at 7:00 p.m., as WNST personalities will discuss tonight’s action from Camden Yards. As always, remember to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the quickest updates and quips about tonight’s game.

Check back right here for updates (time-stamped below) leading right up to first pitch at 7:05 p.m.

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7:30 p.m. — As I posted on Twitter (@WNST) right before the first pitch, Luke Scott has been scratched from the original lineup with a strained left shoulder. Bad news for a lineup already struggling to score runs.

6:55 p.m. — Needing a corresponding 40-man roster move to make room for Mata, the Orioles have officially placed Mike Gonzalez on the 60-day disabled list. Considering Gonzalez has been on the DL since April 10, this really doesn’t impact his rehabilitation efforts or time frame for a return.

6:10 p.m. — Frank Mata and Alberto Castillo aren’t exactly creating a buzz here at the ballpark—especially with Castillo’s ERA sitting at an ugly 12.79 after his most recent stint with the Orioles—but the club is desperate for bullpen arms after losing Uehara and Simon to the disabled list.

Mata signed as a minor-league free agent in the off-season and sported a 2-1 record with a 1.86 ERA and eight saves as the Norfolk closer this season. He spent his entire minor league career in the Minnesota organization prior to this year and has a career 4.08 ERA in six seasons of professional baseball. At 26 years old, he’s far from a prospect, but his performance with the Tides warrants an opportunity at the big-league level.

With the expected promotion of Tillman for Saturday’s start, I’d expect Alberto Castillo to be sent down to make room on the 25-man roster on Saturday. At this rate, Castillo might be on pace to set a major league record for number of promotions and demotions in a season. Of course, that’s not exactly the most prestigious title to be aiming for if you’re Castillo.

Trembley was noncommittal regarding his plans for a revamped bullpen after losing his third closer of the season in Simon. Lefty Will Ohman (0.00 ERA in 24 games) can probably expect an expanded role out of necessity, but the Orioles manager will need to feel his way through the mess that is the Baltimore bullpen right now.

5:50 p.m. — With the Orioles hopelessly in last place and 18 games behind Tampa Bay, the anticipated promotion of Tillman does create a bit of intrigue for the weekend series in Toronto. Tillman made Monday’s start for the Tides, earning the victory after allowing one run and scattering eight hits over six innings.

The 22-year-old prospect struck out seven and continues to dominate the Triple-A level in May. Monday’s victory improved his record to 3-1 with a 2.32 ERA this month, putting to rest the concerns of a poor start to his 2010 season with the Tides.

It’s no secret that most believe Hernandez is best-suited for a bullpen role, and the numbers support it.

While Hernandez supports a 3.38 ERA in the first three innings of his starts, that number balloons to 7.50 in innings 4-6 of his outings. The hope is the 25-year-old can rely more heavily on a plus-fastball and command the slider a bit better in shorter stints out of the bullpen.

Of course, his command issues (28 walks in 42 1/3 innings) may not vanish in a relief role, a dicey proposition should he enter a game with runners on base. Regardless of how confident you might be in Hernandez’s makeup as a reliever, it’s clear Trembley is looking for any reliever who can offer multiple innings of work, a job the right-hander can fulfill without any problem.

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