BALTIMORE — Though it doesn’t always come across that way on TV, Orioles manager Buck Showalter has a quirky sense of humor that the media typically enjoys when the cameras and recorders off.
But after Tommy Hunter pitched seven strong innings and the Baltimore lineup plated eight runs in a comfortable 8-2 win over the Minnesota Twins, it’s easier for the skipper to smile and laugh after a ballgame.
A reporter asked Showalter after Ronny Paulino — serving as the designated hitter on Saturday — collected four hits in his Orioles debut whether it was easier to get his backup catcher in the lineup or in the country, alluding to Paulino’s work visa problems during spring training. The manager smiled and laughed, which is easy to do after games when you get good starting pitching.
“You heard me talk about it in simplistic form,” Showalter said. “You see us getting deeper in the game with our starting pitching, we’ll have some fun this year. It’s two out of 162, but it’s a good way to start. We had good starts to start the season last year, so we’ll see if it continues.”
Following the Opening Day lead of Jake Arrieta, Hunter cruised through seven innings before loading the bases with no outs in the eighth, leading to his departure and two unearned runs to cross the plate. Hunter allowed six hits and a walk while striking out three to improve to 2-1 in three career starts against Minnesota.
The Baltimore starting pitching has yet to allow an earned run in 14 innings to begin the 2012 season.
But the 25-year-old Hunter didn’t view it as a great feat, but rather what he’s expected to accomplish when he takes the hill every fifth day for the Orioles.
“It’s fun,” Hunter said. “It’s what a starting pitcher is supposed to do. You’re supposed to go deep into a game and give your team a chance to win.”
As Showalter reiterated, it’s only two games. The last time the Orioles opened the season with consecutive starts of seven or more innings was 2001 when Pat Hentgen, Sidney Ponson, and Jason Johnson did it against the Red Sox to start the year.
The Orioles lost 98 games that season.
But the formula for improving upon a 93-loss campaign a year ago is the ability of the starting rotation to log more innings and give a respectable Orioles lineup a chance to compete every night out.
“Two games, we’ve gotten deep in the game, and it really creates a good atmosphere for the hitters,” Showalter said.
And that’s exactly what Hunter provided as the Orioles tagged Minnesota lefty Francisco Liriano for six runs in his four innings of work. Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters all hit solo home runs while Robert Andino drove in two runs to lead the Orioles to a 2-0 start for the second straight year.
With Jason Hammel making his Orioles debut on Sunday and trying to pitch the club to its first sweep over the Twins in Baltimore since 2002, the bar has been set pretty high by Arrieta and Hunter in the season’s first two games.
And that’s a good thing.
Hunter’s thoughts following the game rang like a sound piece of advice for Hammel, Brian Matusz, and Wei-Yin Chen, who will each make their first starts of the season over the next three days.
“Just throw strikes and let the defense play,” Hunter said. “They made some plays all night behind me.”
It sounds simple enough, but the Orioles have a long way to show that it can be done night in and night out and keep their manager smiling in 2012.
NOTES: Paulino’s four hits made him the first hitter since Sam Horn on April 9, 1990 to record four hits in his Orioles debut. … With his fourth-inning single, Andino recorded his first two RBI of the season. He didn’t collect his second RBI until May 21 last season. … Markakis went 3-for-4 and is now 5-for-7 to start the season, marking the second time in his career that he started the season with consecutive multi-hit games. The right fielder also homered in consecutive games for the eighth time in his career. … Showalter needs 13 more wins to be the 58th manager in major league history to reach 1,000 wins. … Saturday’s paid attendance was 31,532.
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Buck Showalter, Tommy Hunter, Robert Andino, and Ronny Paulino following Saturday’s 8-2 win right here.