The Orioles fielded a lineup Saturday that featured utility outfielder Craig Gentry in the leadoff spot and three guys at the bottom of the batting order who have combined to appear in a total of 90 big league games since the start of last season.
This is what happens when your regular leadoff guy suffers a freak injury and you’re waiting for several other key players to come off the disabled list.
The Orioles have been waiting for help to arrive since Opening Day and they figure to be waiting quite a while to get back to full strength, so the loss of Trey Mancini – for however long – was just another gut punch that begs for a team-wide gut check.
“We have to play this game today,” executive vice president Dan Duquette said. “The cavalry isn’t going to be here to help us. We have to worry about saddling up and riding ourselves.”
He’s right, of course. The Orioles have no choice but to change the subject before this young season gets entirely away from them.
Everyone knew April would be a major challenge even before slugger Mark Trumbo went out with a spring quad injury and 2017 Most Valuable Oriole Jonathan Schoop suffered the dreaded oblique injury last weekend. The schedule was front loaded with all five of last year’s American League playoff teams, and the Orioles weren’t going to have newly signed starting pitcher Alex Cobb for the first two weeks of the season.
These are the kinds of things that try a manager’s soul. Buck Showalter has a history of doing more with less, but not this much less. He also has a history of refusing to look for any sympathy when things go south, so he wouldn’t even cut his team some slack when Mancini sliced up his knee sliding into a wall in foul territory Friday night.
It’s still early in the season, but Showalter made it clear that the Orioles don’t have time to wait for help.
“Yeah, because the game doesn’t stop,” he said. “Everybody’s got problems, regardless of whether they’re less than yours or what have you. People don’t care about that. They don’t want to hear you talk about it, especially our fans. They get it. It is what it is.
“What I’ve found through the years, when one thing returns to you another one sometimes can go away. This is a very demanding sport played every day. You’re one slide into a wall away from something happening. So, yeah, you do have to guard against that.”
Which is why the current 10-game homestand has taken on an importance not usually seen in the middle of April.
What has to make it all so frustrating for Showalter and Duquette is how the wind has shifted since the start of spring training. The Orioles arrived in Florida facing the same rotation problems that dragged them to the bottom of the standings last season. No one was terribly worried about the offense, thinking they wouldn’t be able to score enough runs to keep from falling off the map in the AL East.
So, they added two free-agent starting pitchers and brought back Chris Tillman, and had to figure that would be enough to keep them competitive if they could produce runs at the same level as last year.
The offense got off to a sluggish start and the injuries have already exposed the club’s so-so minor league depth. The batting order Saturday included four hitters with batting averages in the .100s. Manny Machado and Adam Jones were the only regulars in the lineup off to representative starts.
It might be no great surprise that the Orioles managed to get just two hits off Indians starter Mike Clevenger in Saturday’s 4-0 loss, but the team is now 6-15 and Duquette obviously thinks the excuses are wearing thin.
“You can talk about the weather. You can talk about the injuries. You can talk about the competition we’re playing,” he said. “But this is a big league ballclub. We’ve got to go out and do the best we can every night with what we have where we are. That’s what we’re going to do and hopefully we’ll start playing some decent ball. The goal has got to be to get back to .500 and then if you get to back to .500, then you can see your way to some other goals.”
The Baltimore Orioles felt better after beating the Cleveland Indians on Friday night, and manager Buck Showalter is hoping that positive vibe can carry over to the second game of the series on Saturday at Camden Yards
Baltimore (6-14) ended a six-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over the Indians (9-8) in the series opener after a disastrous 0-6 road trip.
Showalter is hoping that beating a good team like the Indians can give his injury-riddled team a bit of a boost.
“I hope it’s something we can take some confidence (from),” Showalter said. “We’ve had some tough times recently … (and) that’s a tough lineup. That’s a really well put-together club.”
Struggling right-hander Chris Tillman (0-3, 11.91 ERA) could use some confidence going against that team. The former Baltimore ace simply has not been the same since late in the 2016 season and has been hit hard in his first three starts — after going just 1-7 last season.
Tillman is 5-2 with a 4.71 career ERA versus the Indians, who came into the series with a .208 batting average this season. However, the right-hander might be running out of time if he doesn’t find his way soon.
He will go against Mike Clevinger (1-0, 2.70), who is 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA against the Orioles in his brief career. Clevinger is part of a solid Cleveland pitching staff that has kept the Indians in the fight early this season despite the team’s offensive woes.
The right-hander has fanned 14 in 16 2/3 innings this season, which will be his second full year in the major leagues.
The Indians, though, really need to get their offense going. Cleveland.com reported that the Indians are just 1-for-22 with runners in scoring position in their last two games.
Plus, they’ve stranded 21.
Baltimore also is struggling on offense. The Orioles are missing some key players who are on the disabled list, like Jonathan Schoop and Mark Trumbo.
Now, outfielder Trey Mancini, who has settled in at the leadoff spot, hurt a knee while going after a ball Friday night and may need a few stitches. His situation remains uncertain for Saturday.
The Orioles did receive some good injury news when closer Zach Britton threw off a half-mound for the first time Friday and felt fine. They will be more interested in how he is doing Saturday.
Britton underwent surgery on his right Achilles tendon after tearing it in the offseason. The club is hoping to have him back by early June at the latest.
The Indians were not as fortunate with injury news. They said Friday that Mike Napoli tore an ACL and meniscus (knee injuries) this past Tuesday while playing with Triple-A Columbus.
That means he will need surgery, which would end his season. The 36-year-old’s career also could be over, but it would not be surprising to see Napoli turn up as a coach in a place like Cleveland, a subject manager Terry Francona touched on Friday.
“You don’t wish that on anybody,” Francona said, according to Cleveland.com. “I do think he’s smart enough that once he gets through this disappointment, he’s going to impact somebody, somewhere. I hope it’s here.”
BALTIMORE — Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton took a significant step Friday in his recovery from an Achilles injury, throwing 20 pitches off a half-mound in the indoor batting cage at Camden Yards.
Britton, who ruptured his right Achilles tendon while working out at home in California in December, was expected to miss six months after undergoing surgery to repair the injury. He said he hopes to return sometime around late May, when his stay on the 60-day disabled list ends.
Britton will take another step in his recovery when he participates in a fielding practice Saturday. He declined to predict when he might be ready to go on a rehab assignment in the minors.
“When I started walking again, and then jumping, those were big moments for me,” Britton said before the Orioles-Indians game Friday. “I had a little party in the gym for myself when that happened. Those were big things to get over mentally. But today was pretty big for me, getting back on the mound and pitching.
“We’re doing really well with the timeline. We’ve knocked out a lot of things well before we were supposed to. Once I get in a couple of bullpens and full mounds, we’ll probably have a better understanding of what we want to do.”
The half-mound is half the height of a regular mound and minimizes the stress on Britton’s right foot when he lands. The Orioles initially built the mound to help reliever Darren O’Day return from a torn labrum in his hip in 2011.
Britton, 30, has amassed 135 saves over the past four seasons after breaking into the majors as a starter. In 2016, he saved 47 games, logged a 0.54 ERA and 0.84 WHIP, finished fourth in American League Cy Young balloting and made his second straight All-Star team. He’s eligible for free agency after the 2018 season.
Last year, Britton suffered an oblique injury in spring training and was limited to 38 appearances during the regular season because of a forearm injury.
Brad Brach, who has taken over the closer role in Baltimore in Britton’s absence, has a 2.35 ERA, three saves in four opportunities and a 1.43 WHIP in eight appearances this season. The Orioles were 5-14 and last in the AL East entering their weekend series against Cleveland.
Tim Beckham was put back at third base Tuesday after a sojourn from the position this weekend, an attempt to provide him with some consistency as he looks to give the Orioles the same.
It’s been a slow start to the season at the plate for Beckham, who swapped positions with Manny Machado from his preferred spot at shortstop to a new role at the hot corner.
But that has nothing to do with the struggles that have the Orioles last in the majors in production from third base. Beckham blames his plate discipline. Manager Buck Showalter chalks it up to the weather. Either way, there’s not much concern that it won’t turn around.
“We know Timmy is better offensively — and so is a lot of other guys,” Showalter said. “It’s all over baseball. Some guys, it’ll be interesting to see if guys who are off to great starts have been playing in warmer weather. I don’t know. But I give him a pass on that. He’ll hit. He’s always been a threat offensively. That will come.”
Beckham entered Tuesday batting .175 (11-for-63) with a home run, three doubles and 24 strikeouts to go with a .479 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. As the Orioles continue to assess what they have in him, they’ll be troubled that he’s more like the Beckham who struck out 32.7 percent of the time with a 52.4 percent ground ball rate from Sept. 1 on last year than the one who sprayed line drives all over the park en route to a 1.062 OPS in August.
He has a 55 percent ground ball rate and a 35.8 percent strikeout rate this year, according to FanGraphs.
“I just need to be more disciplined,” Beckham said. “I’m swinging at pitches out of the zone, and whenever you’re swinging at pitches out of the zone, you’re not going to have much success. I just want to tighten up my discipline at the plate, and everything will work well. … Weather has nothing to do with it. No excuses. I’m not playing good baseball right now at the plate. I continue to play good baseball on defense, and the bat’s going to be there. I’m going to hit for sure.”
Showalter spent the spring focused on Beckham’s transition to third base more than his new third baseman’s bat, and he felt Tuesday that his defense has been solid. According to FanGraphs, Beckham has been worth one defensive run saved (DRS) through the first two-plus weeks of the season, though he’s been charged with two errors.
Every day before batting practice, he’s doing a different drill with third-base coach Bobby Dickerson to practice the fundamentals of the position. Showalter has told him to just be an infielder, as has Dickerson.
“When you think about all the things that [he’s done], he’s worked very hard at it,” Showalter said. “He’s been OK over there.”
Beckham feels the benefit of all that once the games begin.
“It definitely helps out with day-to-day maintenance, just getting more comfortable at the position,” Beckham said. “I’m comfortable at third, second, short, wherever I need to be. I’m going to keep playing baseball. That’s what it is.”
He hopes his defense can help keep him valuable to the team as he waits for his bat to come around.
“I’m comfortable,” Beckham said. “It’s coming along, and it’s still early. We don’t want to make something small and blow it out of proportion; you take it day-in and day-out. Even if I was the hottest hitter in the clubhouse, you still want to take it day-in and day out and play good baseball. You’re not always going to be on. You’re not always going to be hot. It’s about how you go about your business, and how you handle your work when you’re not hot.
“It’s not late in the season at all. I’m A-OK, ready to rock, baby.”