One old baseball adage is that you’re never as good as you look when you’re winning and never as bad as you look when you’re losing. The Orioles have to hope that second part is right, because a lot of different things have gone wrong over what is, after a 4-3 Saturday night loss to the Royals, now a season-high three game losing streak.
The most Orioles thing about the game is that, in the fifth inning of the game, the Royals starting pitcher, Nate Karns, set a new career high in strikeouts with 12. Actually, something was even more Orioles than that: The game was tied at this point in time thanks to backup catcher Francisco Pena hitting two home runs. More on that later.
In total, the Orioles only mustered six hits in the game. Three of them were home runs. That’s a big reason why they lost. You aren’t going to win many games where you only get six hits and have exactly one chance with runners in scoring position for the entire game.
Another big reason that the Orioles lost the game is that their own starter, Chris Tillman, looked like a guy who still hasn’t shaken off all of the rust in his second start of the season. That’s the optimistic take on a Tillman night where he struggled to put away hitters and was bounced from the game having thrown over 100 pitches before he was able to finish the fifth inning.
A less optimistic take would say something like MASN analyst Jim Palmer did about Tillman during the game after Tillman gave up a hit: “Tillman tried to get a fastball by him, but 88’s not going to cut it.” Tillman is not always above even 90 miles per hour on his fastball at this point in time. It was no accident that he gave up three runs on eight hits and two walks in just 4.1 innings.
For all that Tillman labored through the game, when he left the score was still tied, 2-2, though he left two men on base and one ended up scoring when the night’s designated “oh, crap, the starter couldn’t get through the fifth inning” pitcher, Alec Asher, couldn’t keep the Royals off the board. A sacrifice fly by Royals left fielder Jorge Bonifacio put the Royals up, 3-2 at this point in time.
Francisco Pena loves his mother
Heading into this game, backup catcher Francisco Pena, who’s only on the roster because of the injury to Welington Castillo, had a total of 54 MLB plate appearances to his credit. Exactly one of these went for a home run. Tasked with catching Tillman tonight, Pena did not lack for confidence:
That’s the Orioles director of public relations who witnessed the solemn vow, and in the tweet from MASN, there’s Pena telling his mom hi after hitting the first of his two home runs.
Pena took Karns deep into the bullpens in the top of the third inning, tying the score at 1-1 at that time. A couple of innings later, Pena blasted off on Karns even harder, bombing a ball 430 feet in the same direction. Until Tillman ran into problems, the Orioles had the lead thanks to the second of Pena’s home runs for his mom.
Enter the bullpens
Although Karns had thrown “only” 91 pitches through five innings, he was pulled from the game. I guess the Royals don’t need to worry about nursing their bullpen the way that the Orioles have to do. No need to push Karns for the sixth inning, so they didn’t.
The Royals called on reliever Seth Maness, who was making his first MLB appearance of the 2017 season. Chris Davis welcomed him to the campaign by homering to the opposite field, tying the game 3-3 to lead off the top of the sixth.
This was the last hit that the Orioles got in the game. With two outs, Maness issued a walk to the night’s Orioles left fielder, Trey Mancini, and this was the last baserunner the Orioles got on the night. That’s also a hard way to win a game.
The game being tied did not last for very long at all. Asher gave up a leadoff home run to Royals designated hitter Brandon Moss to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning.
Asher is the losing pitcher in the game as a result, but it’s hard for me to be too annoyed at him about it. He did what he was needed to do - he came in when the starting pitcher went short and did his best to bridge to the later innings.
Over 2.2 innings, Asher gave up the one run on three hits and did not walk a batter. That amounts to a 3.86 ERA if he would continue to pitch at that pace. Not overwhelming by any means, but if he was a starting pitcher with that ERA, we’d be doing backflips, and it’s fine for a pitcher in his current role as well. He took a tough loss on Saturday. That’s the way it goes.
What the Orioles will end up doing about the bullpen remains an open question. Darren O’Day didn’t appear in this game and hasn’t pitched since Monday. It seems like, despite the Thursday rainout, some of the six relievers may still be avoided. This is a problem for another day.
The Orioles will try to stave off a sweep at the hands of the Royals on Sunday afternoon for a 2:15pm Eastern scheduled first pitch. Kevin Gausman takes the mound for the Orioles, with the Royals countering with right-handed junkballer Chris Young.