A day before playing their first postseason game in 15 years, the Orioles have decided on left-hander Joe Saunders to make the start against the Texas Rangers in Arlington.
Baltimore skipper Buck Showalter had mentioned left-hander Joe Saunders and rookie right-hander Steve Johnson as top candidates but decided to go with the former as Johnson deals with a sore knee. Saunders will be on regular rest and has more experience pitching in big games. The Orioles will undoubtedly lean heavily on a deep and well-rested bullpen, meaning Saunders will have a short leash against a powerful lineup.
Though he did not face Texas in the 2012 regular season, Saunders is 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in six career starts in Arlington.
The 31-year-old has been effective since his first start with the Orioles in late August. In his last six starts, Saunders has posted a 3-2 record with a 2.75 ERA in 39 1/3 innings.
Rangers manager Ron Washington has already announced Japanese rookie Yu Darvish will take the ball against the Orioles. Darvish finished his first major league season at 16-9 with a 3.90 earned run average. He struck out 221 batters and walked 89 in 29 starts covering 191 1/3 innings.
In five September starts, Darvish was 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA in 36 2/3 innings and collected 39 strikeouts and seven walks.
The Orioles did not face Darvish in the regular season.
Texas owned the best record in the American League for much of the season but dropped nine of their last 13 games to lose the AL West to the Oakland Athletics in their final game of the season Wednesday. The Orioles owned the top road record (46-35) in the league.
Playing in the first ever AL Wild Card play-in game, the Orioles and Rangers each finished with a 93-69 record, but Texas was awarded the home-field advantage due to their 5-2 record over Baltimore during the regular season. The game will begin at 8:37 p.m. at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
The winner of Friday’s game will go on to play the top-seed New York Yankees in the American League Division Series. That series would begin on Sunday, with the Yankees traveling to the play-in game winner’s ballpark for Games 1 and 2.
Chris Davis might be the best example of what the 2012 Orioles are all about.
Entering the season with untapped potential and more failure than success at the big-league level, both Davis and the Orioles have blossomed in the first 2 1/2 months of the season, surpising critics and even the most optimistic fans in what’s been Baltimore’s best start since 2005.
The 26-year-old Davis has morphed into a fan favorite in his first full season with the Orioles, not only becoming one of the team’s most productive hitters but providing one of the craziest memories in club history when he pitched two innings to earn the win in a 17-inning marathon at Fenway Park on May 6.
Add a broken-bat home run against Pittsburgh last week and his first games in right field at the big-league level this past weekend in Atlanta and you have all the makings of a folk hero in Baltimore.
Much like the 39-27 Orioles, at times, it’s difficult to believe what you’re seeing when watching the designated hitter/first baseman/right fielder/pitching extraordinaire.
But there’s no understating how important Davis’ emergence has been this season, especially with stints on the disabled list by Nolan Reimold, Mark Reynolds, and Nick Markakis. Center fielder Adam Jones has emerged as a superstar by leading the Orioles in batting average, home runs, runs batted in, slugging percentage, and runs scored, but Davis ranks second or third in all five of those categories in becoming a legitimate middle-of-the-order threat in the lineup.
His 12 home runs and 60 strikeouts in 211 at-bats entering Monday night aren’t overly surprising given Davis’ reputation when the Orioles acquired him in the Koji Uehara trade last July, but his .294 average defies what we saw over his last three years in Texas where Davis went from looking like a future star in 2008 to a player fitting the mold of a “Quad-A” hitter before being dealt.
The raw power has never come into question — evident by his broken-bat homer to right field off Pittsburgh reliever Tommy Watson last Wednesday — as Davis hit 17 home runs and batted .285 in 295 at-bats during his rookie season with the Rangers in 2008. However, the left-handed slugger quickly earned the reputation of a hitter who struck out too much, didn’t walk enough, and struggled to handle plus-fastballs in the major leagues. Those flaws led his batting average to plummet to .238 in 2009 and .192 in 2010, causing Davis to bounce back and forth between the Rangers and Triple A in his final three years in Texas.
It was difficult to project Davis as anything more than a less-patient, less-powerful version of Reynolds entering the season, which didn’t speak highly for his potential when considering how flawed Reynolds is as a player.
In 2012, Davis hasn’t made any dramatic changes to his overall approach — 60 strikeouts to just 13 walks — but his improvement against plus-fastballs has led to the substantial increase in average. A career .204 hitter in 255 career at-bats against power pitchers (those in the top third in the league in strikeouts plus walks) entering 2012, Davis has handled them at a .286 rate in 42 at-bats this season.
Davis has also handled left-handed pitching at a far more successful clip, batting .327 in 53 plate appearances against southpaws in 2012 after hitting only .236 against lefties in 275 career at-bats entering 2012.
While his high strikeout and low walk totals aren’t indicative of a hitter that will continue to hover around the .300 mark, Davis has been a model of consistency through his first 57 games this season. Aside from an abysmal seven-game stretch in May in which he went 3-for-28 and struck out 14 times, the left-hander has consistently sat somewhere between .290 and .310 as we reach the final two weeks of June. His .355 batting average for balls put in play indicates Davis has been fortunate, but it’s actually lower than the .366 combined clip he posted last year for the Rangers and Orioles.
When seeing the ball well, Davis shows exceptional power to straightaway center and the opposite field has eight of his 12 home runs have traveled in either of those directions.
After Markakis was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a broken hamate bone, manager Buck Showalter turned to Davis to hold down the No. 3 spot in the order as the Orioles were depleted even further offensively. He’s hit only .206 in 34 at-bats batting third, but the lineup shift could present an interesting decision for Showalter when Markakis returns — projected to be some time during the next homestand, according to the right fielder.
Should Davis remain around the .300 mark, would you consider keeping him in the third spot and moving Markakis to the No. 2 slot? The move would allow Showalter to drop J.J. Hardy in the order, which would make sense with the shortstop hitting only .253 despite 11 home runs.
Whatever the Baltimore skipper decides, it’s a good problem to have.
For a team suffering its fair share of injuries and not receiving the same power numbers it enjoyed from Reynolds a season ago, Davis’ emergence has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season.
His willingness to do whatever is asked of him reflects the spirit of the 2012 Orioles.
Need someone to pitch? Not a problem.
You want to put me in right field in a National League ballpark, even though I’ve never played there in the big leagues? Sure thing.
Whatever it takes to win.
Much like watching the Orioles, you keep waiting and wondering if it’s going to last, but Davis has given no indication of slowing down any time soon.
And he just might be realizing the potential so many saw in him when he first arrived in the big leagues.
There’s simply no chance MIB3 is something I’ll want to go see. And while Cedric the Entertainer is funny, I’d rather talk about beer.
I have no idea whether or not Flying Dog Brewery will be unleashing canned Underdog Atlantic Lager on the Zoo this weekend, but I DO know that the campaign they used to roll it out in our nation’s capital was simply fantastic…
BALTIMORE — After four weeks of quality starting pitching that earned them their best start since the 2005 season, the Orioles suddenly find their rotation filled with question marks.
Opening Day starter Jake Arrieta has been inconsistent, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter have been more bad than good, and Jason Hammel — the best starter on the staff through the season’s first month — is now battling a right knee injury that forced manager Buck Showalter to scratch him from Thursday’s start in hopes that he can return to the hill Monday or Tuesday and avoid the disabled list.
Meanwhile, the starter the Orioles knew the least about entering the season has suddenly become their surest thing. Pitching the front-end of Thursday’s doubleheader against a Rangers lineup that had pounded Baltimore pitching for 24 runs in the first two games of the series, Taiwanese rookie Wei-Yin Chen didn’t blink.
All you needed to know about Chen’s mentality against the two-time American League champions came in the first inning against Josh Hamilton, who was making his first plate appearance since hitting four home runs on Tuesday night. Instead of nibbling on the outside edge of the plate, Chen quickly got ahead 0-2 before buzzing a fastball right under Hamilton’s chin.
The purpose pitched worked as Hamilton flailed badly on the next pitch, a low-and-away breaking ball to end the first inning. It was a sign of things to come as Chen completed the best outing of his brief major league career, pitching 7 2/3 innings while allowing two earned runs and six hits to improve to 3-0 on the season with the Orioles’ 6-5 win in the opener of a straight doubleheader.
“Yeah, definitely, this was my best outing,” Chen said through his interpreter. “This was definitely the best outing of this year.”
Not only did Chen lower his earned run average to an impressive 2.68, but he saved a bullpen that had to work a bit extra in the nightcap after Hunter struggled through six innings while giving up four earned runs in a 7-3 loss.
After receiving an extra day of rest due to Wednesday’s rainout, Chen threw 103 pitches and didn’t seem to struggle as much after reaching the 85-pitch barrier that’s often signaled the end of his effectiveness in several starts. Normally lacking overwhelming stuff, Chen’s fastball topped 93 mph when it normally sits right around 90. In what’s become a pattern for the 26-year-old through his first six starts, he changed speeds and had excellent command, keeping Texas hitters off balance throughout the afternoon.
“Wei-Yin was a difference-maker today to get that deep in the game and against obviously a good lineup,” Showalter said. “He was outstanding. He was sharp with his breaking ball, the extra days’ rest. It seems like he had a little bit more finish on his fastball. He was a difference-maker for us today, and it won’t be forgotten.”
While Chen isn’t a rookie in the traditional sense when you consider his experiences pitching in Taiwan and Japan, his polish has been impressive as he looks to have a plan for every hitter — unlike many of the young pitchers to come to Baltimore and struggle over the last several seasons. He’s allowed three or fewer runs in each start and the competition he’s faced hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk with early encounters against the Yankees and the Red Sox before dominating the Rangers on Thursday.
Of course, even Chen admits the mystery surrounding his ability and how it projects at the major league level has worked to his benefit so far, but it’s tough to discredit what he was able to do to a red-hot Texas lineup.
“Because I’m a new guy, they don’t know me that much,” Chen said. “But, on the other hand, I felt really, really good today, and I had really good command and everything was working. I didn’t think about it too much, I just went pitch-by-pitch today.”
As impressive as Chen has been, he’ll need to make adjustments as American League teams begin to see him for the second and third times. Zach Britton learned that the hard way a year ago when his rookie season began crumbling after looking like a strong Rookie of the Year candidate during the first two months of the season.
Even so, Chen shows the maturity of a pitcher with a plan every time he takes the mound. He doesn’t do anything to overwhelm you, but the results have been exactly what the Orioles were looking for — and badly needed on Thursday.
“We’re still learning about him,” Showalter said. “Considering the competition and the need, [his start] certainly seemed pretty crisp for us.”
BALTIMORE — The good news for the Orioles stemming from Wednesday’s rainout was the extra day of rest it provided a bullpen still feeling the effects of two extra-inning games in Boston last weekend.
However, the thought of playing two games in the same day against an imposing Texas Rangers lineup that battered the Orioles for 24 runs in the first two games of the series is certainly a scary proposition. Manager Buck Showalter can only hope starting pitchers Wei-Yin Chen and Tommy Hunter are up to the task in containing the Rangers’ bats and preventing them from getting to the Baltimore bullpen too early.
Hunter has been recalled from Triple-A Norfolk after being sent down on Monday. The 25-year-old will start the nightcap of Thursday’s doubleheader on only three days’ rest. Given the physical challenges Hunter had faced that contributed to his demotion earlier in the week, the risk involved with sending him to the mound on short rest was considered by Showalter.
The Orioles manager pointed out Hunter had six days’ rest prior to his last start and only threw 82 pitches before being lifted in the sixth inning at Fenway Park on Sunday.
“I actually think he should be in a real good spot physically,” Showalter said. “It’s certainly something I thought about, but he’s had a lost of rest. He should be fine.”
Under normal circumstances, Hunter would not have been allowed to return to the big-league club for 10 days, but the Orioles have placed outfielder Endy Chavez on the 15-day disabled list as expected. Chavez has dealt with an intercostal injury since the Orioles’ three-game series in Anaheim last month.
Chavez said he injured the ribcage area in a batting practice session, and he has gotten
With Chavez and Nolan Reimold both on the disabled list, the Orioles will rely on a combination of Rule-5 selection Ryan Flaherty, recently-recalled utility player Steve Tolleson, and veteran Wilson Betemit to handle duties in left field. It’s not exactly a comfortable spot for Showalter and the Orioles at a position that had plenty of question marks — even with Reimold and Chavez available — at the start of the season.
“I never thought I’d be in this position,” said Chavez, who is hitting just .133 in 60 at-bats this season. “It’s kind of frustrating and disappointing. I want to help the team. It was something I wasn’t expecting.”
Showalter is targeting Monday for Jason Hammel to make his next start. The right-hander’s sore right knee has responded favorably to treatment despite being forced to miss the start on Thursday. The Orioles are being cautious with his past history of knee soreness, and Showalter said Hammel probably could have made Thursday’s start if they really wanted to push the issue.
As expected, Norfolk pitcher Dana Eveland will make Friday’s start. That means the Orioles will have made a roster move every day this week, which is quite a change from April when the only roster move made was Robert Andino going on paternity leave for two days in late April.
Zach Britton threw 45 pitches over three innings of an extended spring training game in Sarasota on Friday. The southpaw allowed one hit while striking out one and walking one. Showalter wouldn’t reveal what Britton’s fastball velocity was, but he said it was a considerable improvement from his previous bullpen sessions.
When asked for a projected return date for the young left-hander, Showalter admitted late May would likely be too ambitious and mentioned early June as a more realistic possibility.
Here are the Game 1 lineups…
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
LF Josh Hamilton
3B Adrian Beltre
DH Michael Young
RF Nelson Cruz
C Yorvit Torrealba
1B Brandon Snyder
CF Craig Gentry
SP Colby Lewis (3-1, 2.97 ERA)
LF Ryan Flaherty
SS J.J. Hardy
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
3B Wilson Betemit
DH Chris Davis
1B Mark Reynolds
2B Ryan Andino
SP Wei-Yin Chen (2-0, 2.76 ERA)
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Buck Showalter, Endy Chavez, and new utility player Steve Tolleson HERE.