For anyone whose immediate reaction to yesterday's Jim Thome acquisition was something along the lines of, "Great, but what was the point?", today's game was pretty much directed right at you. The Orioles' problems in both the starting rotation and on defense were readily apparent. Brian Matusz may be due to be banished to Norfolk after his outing today, giving up 5 runs, 4 earned, in only 4 innings of work. He also pitched to two batters in the fifth inning. As well, with each passing game it's becoming more and more clear that a patchwork outfield solution of Ryan Flaherty and Chris Davis is not going to cut the mustard.
Let's start with Matusz. What else can we say? Whenever he missed, pitches were elevated up in the zone. Sometimes it did not seem like he was capable of finding the strike zone at all. He gave up seven hits and three walks in his four innings of work, pulled after 78 pitches because it was clear he had no effectiveness today. For good measure, he gave up two home runs, one to Shelley Duncan, who entered the game batting .205/.306/.349 and one to Aaron Cunningham, who thus far this season has batted .167/.244/.192.
Matusz is not a major league pitcher right now. There is no longer a question about it. He cannot command anything. He leaves fat pitches right out over the zone and it's no wonder he's given 14 home runs in 84.2 IP. It's also not much wonder that he's got a 5.42 ERA - unless what you're wondering is how it isn't worse? I sometimes ask the question myself.
Miguel Gonzalez was brought up from Norfolk in a good bit of foresight by the Orioles, who knew they would need a long relief man if Matusz struggled today. Perhaps they saw Matusz struggling as an inevitability, which you may have. Whatever the case, Gonzalez came on with two men on base and nobody out in the fifth inning and immediately induced a ground ball for a double play. In dissecting the replay of this GIDP, MASN color commentator Jim Palmer was unable to contain his sarcasm: "Let's see where this pitch ends up. Oh, at the knees. Rolled over. Had to reach for it. Pitching 101."
Against the same lineup that Matusz struggled to retire batters, Gonzalez went 4.1 IP, giving up 4 hits, 3 walks and one earned run. To anyone who immediately wants to plug him into the rotation, it's worth nothing that he looked to be about out of gas as he pitched the top of the 9th, his 5th inning of work. He threw a total of 82 pitches. Gonzalez stopped the bleeding that Matusz started today and gave the O's a chance to come back and get into the game, but there's no guarantee he is an answer for the O's as a starter.
We've seen enough of Matusz for right now and it's clear he needs to be sent somewhere to work on something, as long as that place is not an MLB rotation. The Orioles agree, as within the time I was writing this post, which I started as soon as the game ended, Matusz was optioned to Norfolk before there was even a corresponding roster move. They did not want to wait. They just wanted to get him out of here immediately. Might as well drop Gonzalez into that spot and see what happens.
Back onto the subject of the defense, both Davis and Flaherty showed today that this whole "well, let's throw whoever into the outfield and see what happens" strategy will burn the Orioles at times. There was a play in the box score that was scored as a sacrifice fly because it was a fly ball that resulted in an out, while a runner scored from third. What you won't see in the box score is that Davis dropped a routine fly ball and then threw in for a force at second base. Apparently, this still counts as a sacrifice fly. I learned something new today.
Flaherty in left field had his own adventure. He is not a natural outfielder. That's all there is to say. There were two different plays today where Flaherty's lack of instincts showed and where a regular left fielder - like, say, Xavier Avery, who has a bit more experience at the position and also has speed - would have caught a ball that ended up being scored a double. You can't even really blame Flaherty. He doesn't belong out there. It's possible that he doesn't even belong on an MLB roster, which is why he was available in the Rule 5 draft. But with the MASH unit situation in Baltimore, and the glut of 1B/DH types on the roster, putting him out there looks like a good idea.
Speaking of 1B/DH types, let's revisit the newest Oriole, Jim Thome. He mashes taters. He did not mash any taters today. He went 0-4 with 2 Ks. Now, before I extrapolate this lone game worth of data into a broader point that has no meaning whatsoever, let's just say that if Thome had been playing in an O's uniform all year, we would think nothing of one single hitless game with 2 Ks. Probably he will keep something approximating the line he had in 30 games with Philadelphia. We hope. However, it's worth noting that against pitchers who don't play for the Orioles, Thome is 9-for-53 this year. That's a .170 batting average.
Thome might help a bit with stabilizing a sinking offense, but unless help arrives for the rotation and the defense, it's going to be a rather pointless exercise. When Nick Markakis returns from the DL, that's one less question mark in the field - except for the niggling feeling that he hasn't been the same player in right field in recent years, but still, got to be better than Chris Davis - and one less at the plate as well.
The O's will now have to get on a plane for a West Coast road trip that will take them into the All-Star Break - a game at which they will have three representatives, Adam Jones, Jim Johnson, and Matt Wieters, which if nothing else is exciting news on its own. If only the O's could have had a nice game today to celebrate the news.
At any rate, first up on this road trip is three games against Seattle. Jason Hammel - a potential 4th O's All-Star; he's in the Final Vote for the AL - will start the opening game for the O's and Hisashi Iwakuma will oppose him with the Mariners. The game has a scheduled first pitch for 10:10pm Eastern time.