Bud Norris entered Monday's game against the Rangers having had left-handed batters hitting .325/.400/.558 against him in 2015. There were six left-handed batters and one switch hitter in the Rangers lineup for the game. The result was entirely predictable to everyone, it seems, except for the Orioles decision makers. Norris got wrecked for the Tommy Hunter Starter Special, Five Runs All Earned, allowing four home runs, all to lefty batters, on the way to an 8-1 O's loss in the series opener against Texas.
Watching Norris pitch like this is all the more frustrating when you look at the Orioles continuing to do everything with Kevin Gausman except let him get regular action in some starting rotation, any rotation, preferably the one at the major league level. Norris, of course, was an important part of last year's Orioles team, but after this, his 11th start of the year, it seems a lot like whatever was letting him be successful last year is not still with him this year. Lefties are destroying him and perhaps will continue to destroy him.
Matusz Test: Failed
Norris began the game with a 6.70 ERA, which is up in the level where a failure of the Matusz Test is both impressive and depressing. The Matusz Test, so named after Matusz's 2011 season in which his ERA climbed after 11 of his 12 starts, states that if a pitcher's ERA goes down after a start, he passes the Matusz Test. If not, he fails. Norris failed on Monday night. His ERA is now 6.79.
Over six innings of work, Norris gave up the five runs on nine hits and a walk. He probably deserved to have allowed more runs than he did, only the Rangers bailed him out by running into two outs on the basepaths in the first inning despite having both of their first two batters reach. Rougned Odor led off with a single, then got himself picked off first base - he was initially called safe but after an Orioles challenge, the call was overturned.
Next, Shin-Soo Choo singled. Choo tried a delayed steal one batter later that was not successful. Thanks for the free outs, Rangers.
Never fear, because Norris had many more lefties to face as the game went on. Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland took Norris deep two different times, in the second inning and also the fourth. Those were his 11th and 12th home runs of the season. At least Moreland is a legitimate power threat who's having a nice season. When Norris even manages to give up a home run to backup catcher Carlos Corporan, who entered the game batting .188, that is, again, impressive and depressing.
Just for laughs, Choo took Norris deep in the fifth inning. Of the five runs he allowed, every one of them scored via a home run. Speaking of Norris, if you want, you can get the shirt he designed as a giveaway at Tuesday's Orioles game. It looks like this:
As my friend Stacey Folkemer said, maybe he can get into t-shirt design when his playing career is over.
Wandy you expect, the Orioles to get clutch hits?
For some time now, the Orioles have been the league leaders in hitting with runners in scoring position. They have batted a .319 with RISP going into Monday's game, over ten points ahead of the second place Rockies. Maybe that means they're good at it. Maybe it means they're due to regress. It was regression that hit on Monday against Rangers starter Wandy Rodriguez, a relatively soft-tossing lefty who came into the game with an ERA north of 4. The Orioles went 1-9 with RISP in this game.
That kind of failure has many fathers. Six of them, as a matter of fact, with Adam Jones being the lone Oriole to deliver a clutch hit in the game. Jones drove in a run with a bases loaded single in the fifth inning. With nine hits and three walks in the game, they had their chances in multiple different innings but they weren't able to do much with any of it.
A second inning rally that started with a two out J.J. Hardy single and a Steve Pearce double over the fence in center field amounted to nothing when Ryan Flaherty popped out to shortstop. A one out rally in the fourth inning was under way with back-to-back singles by Chris Davis and Delmon Young. That was followed up by back-to-back looking strikeouts by Hardy and Steve Pearce.
In fairness to Pearce in particular, the strikeout pitch was not anywhere close to a strike; plate umpire John Hirschbeck was calling absurdly low strikes all game, for both teams, including a second ridiculous called strikeout of Pearce in the sixth inning. But, when you lose 8-1, it's not because the umpire is calling low strikes. In this case it's because the Orioles' starter was not good, and to a lesser extent because their 4-5 hitters blew a bases loaded situation with one out in the fifth inning.
Five Runs, All Earned: The Reprise
Norris turned in a Hunteresque performance as the starter. I called Hunter Five Runs All Earned when he was a starter because that was often his line. Perhaps he felt like he had to reclaim his title, because as he soaked up two innings of relief in this game, he seemed like he wanted to get back to his roots.
Hunter allowed three straight singles in the seventh inning before giving up a bases clearing triple to Rangers rookie Joey Gallo, who, if nothing else, was kept from hitting a 500 foot home run as my fellow CC writer Alex Conway expected to happen in tonight's game. Gallo struck out in his other four at-bats in the game. It was the first triple of his career. Young and the right field corner were involved, but it was probably a triple no matter who was out there.
The O's had Rodriguez out of the game after he faced only one batter in the fifth inning, but they weren't able to get anything going against the Texas bullpen. They had only two men reach base against four different relievers combined and the O's hitters struck out seven times in the 6th-9th innings. Added to the seven strikeouts Rodriguez had, they struck out 14 times in the game. That's baseball these days.
At press time of this recap, both the Rays and Blue Jays have already lost their games. The Orioles can preserve their lead in the AL East if the Yankees lose out in Anaheim. If the Yankees win, the O's will find themselves a half-game behind the Bronx Bombers.
Game two of this four game series is scheduled for Tuesday night at the standard civilized baseball time of 7:05pm Eastern. Miguel Gonzalez is the starter for the O's, with Colby Lewis pitching for the Rangers.