At this year’s trade deadline, in significant need of an external addition who would make a positive impact, the Orioles traded for Jack Flaherty. Through his first two O’s starts, Flaherty had one good one and another that was OK if you squint. On Tuesday night in San Diego, he stunk like the hippo house, and the Orioles lost to the Padres, 10-3.
The only good thing that there is to be said about Flaherty’s outing is that he did those on the East Coast with early bed times a favor by letting them head off to bed with no suspense by initiating the disaster right away in the first inning. Those who nestled in their beds salute you. The rest of us stuck it out. I was contractually obligated to write about this game. I don’t know why you stayed up, if you did. Hopefully you at least got some laundry folded or dishes washed.
Back to Flaherty, because unfortunately we must discussed how he pitched. It was bad. It did not have to be bad. It just was. The home batting part of the game began with Padres second baseman Ha-Seong Kim ripped a grounder past third baseman Ramón Urías for a leadoff double. Flaherty did that thing where he gets your hopes up before crushing them, as Kim was still at second base after two outs were recorded.
Flaherty started off Manny Machado with a 3-0 count, eventually walking him on a full count. The next batter, Xander Bogaerts, also took three straight balls out of the zone to start his time at the plate, with Flaherty issuing the free pass after throwing one strike. The bases were suddenly loaded. MASN’s Kevin Brown observed that the Padres seized the moniker “Slam Diego” last season because of how many grand slams they had hit. He added portentously that the Padres had not hit a grand slam yet this year.
If you heard this remark, you knew, deep down in your heart, that only one outcome was possible. Flaherty... well, actually, he walked in a run by giving a free pass to Jake Cronenworth. THEN he gave up the grand slam to the next batter, one-time hyped Yankees prospect Gary Sánchez. The Orioles were down in a 5-0 hole, just like that. Sánchez, whose career was on the way to the junkyard until San Diego picked him up out of desperation, now has 16 homers in 57 games for the Padres.
By the time the dust settled on that first inning, not only were the O’s trailing, but Flaherty had thrown 34 pitches. This act was followed by a second inning in which Flaherty hurled another 29 pitches, hammered especially by a trio of plate appearances in which he threw ten pitches before walking Juan Soto, nine pitches before giving up a two-run double to Machado, and eight pitches before striking out Bogaerts. He could not put these guys away.
When the Orioles recently transitioned their rotation into a six-man unit in order to help limit innings counts of their less-MLB-experienced starters, they were making a bet that there would not be any disastrous short outings. The bullpen, limited to seven relievers, has no long reliever who can be deployed as an “in case of emergency” choice, so any short start will chew up innings from relievers who are needed in late innings where the Orioles maybe have a lead or maybe where they aren’t losing by that much.
Here we are. Flaherty took 84 pitches to get through three innings. He gave up seven runs, all earned. The Orioles did not do a “rub his face in the mess” by making him pitch a fourth inning. Nick Vespi entered for the fourth and pitched the fifth as well, giving up three runs in the process. What kind of ripple effect follows from this outing being dropped into the pond is to be seen. At least there was no danger of ever needing to decide who’d pitch the bottom of the ninth.
Also to be seen is whether Flaherty can rebound from this clunker to make people feel better about Mike Elias’s decision to trade for him. For as many good things as Elias has done to get the team to where it is right now, 28 games above .500 on August 16, he has attempted to bolster the Orioles rotation three times in the last nine months and the additions were Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, and Flaherty.
As yet, none of these gentlemen has contributed even within a 10% below league average ERA to the O’s. That’s a “get somebody suspended if they say it on MASN” kind of fact about the 2023 Orioles.
The MASN broadcast of the game effectively waved the white flag in the third inning. The director made sure that nearly the entirety of that inning had a camera staying focused on a young girl in Padres apparel attempting to eat a substantially-sized ice cream cone. No adult was in view. Ben McDonald and Brown stayed rapt on this quest, expecting a train wreck from the melting treat with no napkins in sight.
The girl was eventually handed a napkin, which she used to wipe the ice cream that was dripping down the exterior of the cone with form that was praised by Kevin, and then proceeded to lick the ice cream off of the napkin. Without question, this was the highlight of the game, and more interesting than anything the Orioles did in the game.
It was always going to be a bit of a tough task for the O’s tonight, with Padres starter Michael Wacha returning from the IL to make the start. Wacha’s ERA was 2.84 heading into the game and 2.68 after he pitched five shutout innings.
The Orioles mustered just three hits and a walk while Wacha was in the game. They only broke up the shutout after he was gone, and that was thanks to Tatis breaking back when he should have gone forward on a fly ball hit by Austin Hays. With two outs, this scored Cedric Mullins - who’d reached with a single - from first base. Mullins had two of the O’s eleven hits. Most of the hits found grass in the late innings after the game had effectively been over for a while.
Hays later hit a homer in garbage time. If these two hits can help halt his second half slumber, that would be one positive to take out of this game. That entirely depends on whether he can actually carry this one game with one kind of fluky hit and a homer off a scrub reliever forward into something good. This game didn’t put me in the kind of mood to hold my breath for that outcome.
Following Vespi, Shintaro Fujinami pitched a scoreless sixth and Mike Baumann kept the Padres off the board in the seventh despite late inning sub Jordan Westburg’s first MLB error. Westburg took the error on the first pitch he saw after coming into the game at third base. Urías, who shifted to an unfamiliar position at first base, probably should have picked the ball.
With a 10-1 margin in the bottom of the eighth, that’s a “position player can pitch” margin and the Orioles availed themselves of the opportunity. Catcher James McCann entered for the first pitching outing of his 832 MLB career games. He threw as fast as 53mph and as slow as 39, and despite giving up two hits, tossed a scoreless inning. The dugout was delighted for him.
There may be a slightly less late night for the fans of Birdland as this series closes tonight, with an 8:40 Eastern start time, an hour earlier than the first two games. It’ll be another tough task for the O’s, as Dean Kremer takes on the Padres lineup while the Orioles batters must face off against Blake Snell.
Whether you have read this before going to bed or after waking up in the morning, let me send you off into Wednesday with some good news. The last place Yankees lost on Tuesday night and are down to a .500 record. The news gets better! In San Francisco, the Rays were beaten, 7-0, by the Giants. The Orioles lead in the AL East holds at three games. The magic number to clinch the division is 39.