With every passing start, Mike Wright answers more definitively the question of whether or not he belongs in an Orioles starting rotation. In Saturday’s game, he showed that he does belong. The problem is that the rotation Wright belongs in is the one from the 2008 edition of the team.
As bad as Wright was today, throwing more balls than strikes in 103 pitches over five-plus innings, he received no decision in the game as the Orioles offense rallied to first tie the game and then take the lead. However, Wright's short outing led to an overexposure of the weak parts of the Orioles bullpen and they went on to lose, 11-6.
Not the Wright stuff
How do you even throw more balls than strikes over 100+ pitches? That takes some real work. Wright managed the trick. Maybe he threw so many balls because when he was throwing strikes the Jays were hitting the ball all around. Over his five-plus innings he walked five (!) batters and gave up six hits.
Yet when he left he had a lead. After trailing 3-0 early due to Wright’s shenanigans, the Orioles struck suddenly in the top of the fourth, tying the game in the span of three batters.
Joey Rickard led off the inning with his fifth home run of the season. Manny Machado reached with a double and Chris Davis hit his fourth home run in as many games. Just like that, the game was tied. Wright, despite his being poor earlier, even battled through five innings keeping the Jays from scoring any further runs.
Machado crushed a home run of his own in the top of the sixth inning. That was #16 on the year for the Orioles shortstop/third baseman. The Orioles had a short-lived 4-3 lead at this point in the game.
The lead did not long survive. Wright, despite looking awful today and already being over 100 pitches, was asked to start the sixth inning. Wright promptly gave up his sixth and final hit to Kevin Pillar before being pulled in favor of long man T.J. McFarland.
McFarland does not spell “relief”
Whatever manager Buck Showalter was hoping to get out of McFarland today, McFarland did not deliver it. The game was quickly tied again as Darwin Barney singled off McFarland to move Pillar to third, where he easily scored on a Devon Travis sacrifice fly. There was still no one out and there was now a go-ahead run on second base.
McFarland, much like Wright, was allergic to throwing strikes in this game. Of the 38 pitches he threw over two innings, only 19 of them - half - were strikes. McFarland threw many of those balls to .202 hitter Russell Martin, whom he walked, and Ezequiel Carrera, whom he also walked, loading the bases with just one man out.
The lead was gone after the next batter, Josh Donaldson, hit a sacrifice fly that easily scored Barney. The lead was REALLY gone the batter after that, Edwin Encarnacion, who has authoritatively busted out of his slump in the last couple of games. Encarnacion crushed a ball into the second level of left field seats and out came that freaking parrot. More importantly, the Orioles abruptly trailed, 8-4.
Before McFarland was done meddling in the game, he allowed another run on a pair of hits in the seventh inning to make it 9-4. That was a Tommy Hunter-as-starter (Five Runs, All Earned) outing for McFarland, only he did it in relief. Yes, that's bad.
So far this year, McFarland had held right-handed batters to a .138 average in 29 at-bats, with only one extra base hit. That seems to have been a small sample size and it's going to look a lot worse after today.
Thanks for the rally, but...
The Orioles offense tried their very best to overcome this startling display of incompetent pitching. With starter J.A. Happ out of the game, Rickard greeted reliever Joe Biagini to the game in the top of the eighth with a single. Machado also singled and Davis walked to load the bases.
Mark Trumbo followed with a single of his own, one that floated just over a leaping Barney at second base. Rickard scored, and just like that, the Orioles had the tying run at the plate with no one out. An unlikely rally, but the Orioles specialize in those, don't they?
A sixth Orioles run crossed the plate on a Jonathan Schoop sacrifice fly that advanced both runners. Here, Hyun Soo Kim pinch hit for Nolan Reimold and drew a walk, once again loading the bases, putting the tying run on base and the go-ahead run at the plate.
After seeing Kim take over for Reimold, you might have liked to see Matt Wieters pinch hit for Francisco Peña, who had been catching the day game following a night game. But it seems when Showalter wants Wieters to have an off day he wants it to be all the way off. Peña grounded into a double play and that was that for that rally.
...in the end, it doesn’t even matter
Not that it would have particularly mattered if the Orioles got any closer than that, because the sacrificial lamb for the eighth inning, lefty reliever Brian Duensing, gave up a pair of home runs. One was hit by Encarnacion, his second of the day, with the other being crushed by Michael Saunders, his 11th of the year.
Over his limited action since being promoted by the Orioles, Duensing has posted a 9.82 ERA, forcing us to confront an unsettling question: What if Brian Matusz, frustrating and thoroughly disappointing as he may have been, was the only thing saving us from something worse than Matusz?
Elsewhere on Saturday, the Red Sox found themselves going up against winless Kyle Gibson and the moribund on-pace-to-win-49-games Minnesota Twins. As of this writing, the Red Sox led, so by day’s end the O's and Sox will probably be tied atop the division again.
The good news, which I am relaying to you with every ounce of sarcasm that I can muster through plain text, is that Ubaldo Jimenez will be the Orioles pitcher tomorrow as they try to salvage a split out of this four game series. He’ll be opposed in the 1:07 game by Aaron Sanchez, who has been very good in 2016.