The situation was easy to read. Wei-Yin Chen had pitched six strong innings, giving up only two runs, and had 98 pitches going into the seventh. This is the place where he falls apart. Have a reliever ready the first time a batter gets on base. This is not challenging. Indeed, Chen led off the seventh inning by issuing a walk to Michael Cuddyer. Time to pull him. There's no need to mess around.
What is the point of leaving Chen in there for the seventh? This is not the first time that Buck Showalter has been burned by a starter - particularly Chen - suddenly losing it. It will probably not be the last time. Given how the Orioles bullpen performed in Arizona, it's not hard to see why Buck would want to rely on his starter. That faith was not rewarded tonight.
Chen pitched 6.1 innings, giving up five hits, a walk, and four runs, all earned, while striking out seven batters. If you take out the seventh his line would look like this: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 1 HR. The home run he allowed was to a hitter who came into the game with a .219 on-base percentage (Charlie Culberson) who hit the first home run of his career.
Given how the bullpen performed tonight, surrendering two runs in 2.2 innings, perhaps there is even more reason for Buck to have rolled the dice with his starter. Francisco Rodriguez surrendered a monster bomb to Charlie Blackmon, a defensive replacement in left field. Blackmon's home run was his third of the season, and it landed on an umbrella out on Eutaw Street, the 73rd home run to land there in Camden Yards history. That also marked the 44th hit by an opponent, the sixth by an opponent this year, and the first by a Rockies player.
What was up with Charlies homering tonight, anyway? Blackmon replaced Culberson and they both ended up homering out of the #9 spot in the lineup. The Orioles specialize in walks and home runs given up to 8th- and 9th-place hitters, it seems.
Rodriguez left the game with a right groin strain. He appeared to be limping as he warmed up for the eighth inning and may have been trying to pitch through the pain, which may explain the home run, but it still sucked. He was replaced by Darren O'Day, who only threw six strikes in fourteen pitches but made it through the rest of the inning unscathed.
Prior to the game, Jim Johnson guaranteed that the Orioles would win. He came on to pitch the ninth inning, though he was not going for the save on account of the O's having mustered only two runs against Juan Nicasio. There was no pressure and no stakes at all. The Orioles bats were flat and they were on the way to a loss. Not even then can Johnson get a clean inning. He left a pitch up that Todd Helton hit for a home run, the 2,491st of his career. That places him in 97th all-time on the hits list.
Both of these bullpen-surrendered home runs were not necessary for Colorado to win the game. Matt Wieters hit the platonic example of an FUHR in the ninth - his 17th homer of the year - to make it a 6-3 score, and that was that.
Why did the Orioles have only two runs off of Nicasio? That is an excellent question, especially when you consider that Nicasio, who entered tonight's game with a 5.04 ERA in 114.1 innings - with a 6.03 ERA in 59.2 road innings - had no business turning in a good start. It was only the sixth time in 22 starts that he went six innings. The Orioles did not get any hits from the time there was one out in the third inning until Wieters hit his home run with one out in the ninth.
The 5-9 hitters were a total of 1-17 on the night, with Wieters' home run and a walk by Wieters and Brian Roberts being the only output from those spots in the order. Chris Davis had two walks but was 0-2, snapping an eight-game hitting streak, and J.J. Hardy took an 0-4, snapping an 11-game hitting streak.
They were not without their chances in the game. Nate McLouth led off the game with a home run, the second time he's done so this season and the 12th time he has done so in his career. Manny Machado singled, but Davis, Adam Jones, and Markakis were retired in order without any more runs coming across.
They got another chance in the third inning with the Roberts walk leading off the inning. Machado poked a single into right field. The bases were loaded when Nicasio walked Davis for the first time. Jones drove in a run with a seeing-eye single nearly identical to Machado's, leaving the bases still loaded with only one out.
Markakis, who is slugging .369 (73rd out of 83 qualifying American League batters), only needed to get a ball into the outfield to score another run. He popped up pathetically, a foulout that barely left the dirt behind the batter's box that the catcher caught easily. Wieters smacked a hard liner right at Rockies second baseman D.J. LeMahieu and the inning was over. That was the last hit until the Wieters home run.
The loss was the fourth straight at a time when the O's need to be kicking in the afterburners. They've engaged the turbo boosters, alright, but they are headed in the wrong direction as they play their way through the National League West. They will attempt to stop the slide on Saturday night at 7:05. Chad Bettis is starting for Colorado. The 24-year old will be making his 4th-ever MLB start and sports a 5.06 ERA. Bud Norris takes the mound for the Orioles.
More from Camden Chat:
- MLB Odds: Orioles are 18/1 to win the World Series
- Series Preview: O's vs. Rockies (16 - 18 August)
- Scoreboard watching: A.L. East and Wild Card races
- Around the minors 8/15/13: Zach Britton leaves Norfolk start after being hit by batted ball
- Baltimore Orioles Podcast: Camdencast Episode 50 - Jim Johnson Rage