The people who run baseball teams are smarter than us, individually and collectively. Sometimes they make decisions that do not work out and do not seem to make sense under any amount of scrutiny. They are smarter than us, and I would not claim otherwise. But they can look really dumb. The Orioles looked dumb today with their curious decision to call up top prospect Kevin Gausman to make his first big league start of the season, on three days rest, against a great-hitting team like the Tigers. It did not work out. The O's dropped the game 7-5, their fourth straight loss.
Why would you ask a guy who's not far removed from the disabled list for a bad bout of pneumonia, who has not thrown more than 80 pitches in any of his minor league outings so far this year, to come up in this spot? If you really wanted Gausman in the rotation, why not call him up on regular rest? Why bump Miguel Gonzalez, who was fresh off his best outing of the season, into the bullpen, even temporarily? They must have had some reason for these things. Perhaps it made sense internally, given that they know many things we do not know.
There were plenty of reasons to be anxious about the game ahead of time, given all of those factors. Gausman's performance on the day did nothing to abate the concerns. The only silver lining you can offer is that he did not allow any home runs, but he did allow five runs on six hits and two walks in only four innings before being pulled from the game. He threw nearly all fastballs and did not have great success with any other pitch. Whether his problem was a disruption of his routine or something else is the sort of thing that won't be shared with the public, even if the Orioles know.
Will he stay? Will he go? We do not know.
It's a shame that so much attention has to be paid to that curious decision, because the Orioles offense had a day that might otherwise be considered a breakout against an ace like Justin Verlander. The former Cy Young winner also gave up five runs, though he went six innings. He allowed six hits and a walk against four strikeouts, hardly the kind of performance you'd expect from him. When you get a guy like Verlander on an off day, that is a game you need to win. Instead, the Orioles found another way to lose.
After Gausman left the game, the Orioles brought in Gonzalez. They telegraphed that this would probably occur in media reports, with repeated references during the MASN game broadcast to Gonzalez piggy backing Gausman. Of course, it's also three days rest for Gonzalez, and he is not used to being employed as some sort of long man. So he was pitching on short rest in an unusual role. Is that an excuse for giving up two runs (one earned) in two innings of work? No, but it still might be a reason, and that contributed to the Orioles losing today as well.
The unearned run came in the fifth inning thanks to Gonzalez throwing a ball into center field on a comebacker to the mound that should have been a double play ball. That run scored on a Don Kelly single, and it proved to be the run the Tigers would need, as it staked them to what was then a 6-0 lead.
The Orioles offense finally struck in the bottom of the fifth. They scored all five of their runs in the inning, all with two outs. David Lough reached on a one-out single and advanced to second on a grounder by Nick Markakis. Lough was running on the pitch, which is all that saved the Orioles from an inning-ending double play. Manny Machado worked a walk. Back-to-back singles by Adam Jones and Chris Davis scored Lough and Machado, which brought up Nelson Cruz, who is the man.
In Cruz's previous at-bat in the fourth, there was a bit of an incident, and by "incident" I mean that Verlander blatantly threw a fastball behind Cruz about numbers-high. Everyone in the stadium could draw the conclusion that this was some kind of "payback" for what happened between Bud Norris and Torii Hunter in the first game of the series, with the key difference that Verlander made his pitch on purpose and Norris did not. Cruz stared at Verlander, unamused. Verlander aggressively took several steps towards home plate in what I can only assume was an attempt to escalate the situation. Cruz did not bite. In any case, after that, both benches were warned. Cruz got his revenge in that at-bat on an infield single to shortstop. A small victory.
So, Cruz and Verlander and unfinished business, or whatever. In the fifth, with two men on, there were no more throws at anyone. There was a hanging pitch. Cruz turned on it for a three-run home run. The scoreboard is the best place to get revenge. This three-run shot was Cruz's 11th of the season and it brought the Orioles to within 6-5. Cruz has driven in 33 of the Orioles' 155 runs.
They chased Verlander out of the game after six innings, having gotten him to throw 110 pitches in that time. Some games it seems the Orioles don't get the other team to throw 110 pitches in nine innings.
The Tigers bullpen features bloated ERAs and physiques like Joba Chamberlain. They had three innings to get to them. That is the situation you want. They loaded the bases against Chamberlain in the eighth, with even Lough working a clutch two-out walk to bring up Markakis, who hit a lazy liner to center. It probably would have been enough to score a run had there been fewer than two outs. That's life.
After hitting in 18 straight games, Markakis is now 0-13. On the plus side, Jones is heating up, with a three-hit game to extend a hitting streak to nine games.
Ryan Webb, Troy Patton, and Brian Matusz all added scoreless innings for the O's. It doesn't matter. I just wanted to mention them.
The Orioles now head to Kansas City for a four-game series against the Royals. In the opening game of the series on Thursday, they will face fireballer Yordano Ventura. What could possibly go wrong? Wei-Yin Chen, with an extra day of rest, starts for the O's in an 8:10pm game.