A Matusz-Hunter idea so crazy, it just might work for the Orioles

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles could try something else for two struggling, platoony relievers

It happened again.  An Orioles reliever gave up a game-changing home run to an opposite-handed scrub hitter in a critical late-inning situation.  Whether it's Brian Matusz to Jerry Sands or Tommy Hunter giving up the only career homer to Munenori Kawasaki, the Orioles have a pair of mega-platoony relievers.  That situation is fun as hell for Orioles fans when Brian Matusz is destroying David Ortiz, but a lot less so when no-name fringe MLBers are hitting game-winning jacks.

Right-handed hitters are owning Brian Matusz to the tune of .305/.372/.494 in his career.  That's not good, and it's even worse this season (don't look it up, you'll regret it).  Meanwhile, lefties are shredding Hunter for a line of .294/.344/.502 (in case you're wondering, that's also not good), and it's also worse this year (although righties are also killing Hunter this year, so it may just be a Tommy Hunter Stinks This Year thing).

All of this leads to a predictable in-game tactics problem for the Orioles.  Buck Showalter will bring in Matusz or Hunter to face a tough lefty or righty, and like clockwork, the opposing team will just trot out a pinch hitter of the other handedness.  This means that the Orioles succeed in getting one tough hitter removed from the game, then invariably fail at actually winning the game, because the other team scores runs by torching a platoony relief pitcher with a scrub hitter who, to slant-quote Earl Weaver, is lucky to be in baseball for chrissakes, but who can nonetheless crush a flat fastball from an opposite-handed relief pitcher.

So if the Orioles want to get effective performance from Matusz and (if he ever gets his general act back together) Hunter, what should they do?  Maybe they should get creative.

Step one is to regularly start a passable bat with a mediocre glove in left field, meaning Steve Pearce or Delmon Young.  Nelson Cruz will also work in a pinch, though for reasons you'll see in a moment, is less optimal.

Step two, when it comes time to get out a tough hitter in a mid-to-late inning (this usually seems to be a problem early in the seventh inning, when an Orioles starter is inevitably around 175 pitches and it's too early to hand a close game over to Darren O'Day and Zach Britton), have both Hunter and Matusz warmed up.

Step three, when the call to the bullpen comes, here's the real trick, call in the appropriate platoon reliever to pitch, and call in the other one to play left field.  What you gonna do now, Joe Maddon?  Go ahead, bring in Jerry Sands, Hunter can trot in from left and pitch.  What's that, Blue Jays, you're going to give Munenori Kawasaki another go-round when Hunter comes in?  No problemo - "Now moving from left field to pitcher, Brian Matusz."  Since both players are on the field and neither has been removed from the game, the Orioles can play this game all night.

Step four, after Hunter and Matusz have served their useful roles, call in David Lough as a defensive replacement in left field.  That's it.  Is it unorthodox?  Yep.  Does it seem cheap or like it would violate some unwritten rule?  Probably, but do the Orioles really need to care about any of that?  Is there a real reason not to give it a shot at this point?  No, no there is not.

The only real downside to the plan is the possible need for the non-pitching pitcher to actually play left field.  But we've all seen Nelson Cruz out there, so I don't really think it gets much worse.

I don't think Buck Showalter would ever actually try this.  But I'm not even joking at this point that he might as well.  The Orioles really do not need Matusz and Hunter pitching to righties or lefties, respectively.  This plan is a creative way to take that obvious tactical play away from the opposing managers of the league.  It can't hurt.

Shared credit to Camden Chatter Matt Shaffner for working up this idea during an exchange in the open threads one day this offseason.  I don't know if he was serious at that point, but I am as serious as a Conor GIllaspie home run now.

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