Britton, Pearce lead happiest Orioles surprises

Britton, Pearce lead happiest Orioles surprises
July 15, 2014, 12:00 pm
(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Tonight’s All-Star Game will feature two Orioles as starters. Had circumstances been different, others could have been chosen. While Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones aren’t surprises, several others have been in the first half.

1) Zach Britton

The Orioles were so disappointed with Britton that he was sent away in September, a time when players are usually added. Only an 18-inning game at Tampa Bay caused them to rethink Britton, and it didn’t hurt that he was only 45 minutes away in Sarasota.

Manager Buck Showalter insisted this was going to be a big year for Britton. He was out of options, and he would have been in the major leagues with someone else if not the Orioles.

An impressive spring training and a move to the bullpen jumpstarted Britton, who began the year as a setup man. After Tommy Hunter was removed as closer, Britton supplanted him and has done well.

How well? He entered the break with a 3-1 record and a 1.30 ERA. He has 15 saves in 17 chances. Britton has allowed runs in just one of his last 19 games. Four of the seven runs he’s given up this year came on June 20 when New York’s Carlos Beltran beat him in the ninth inning.

2) Steve Pearce

Pearce wasn’t even an Oriole for a week in April. The Orioles designated him for assignment so they could add T.J. McFarland to a tired pitching staff.

He wanted to come back to Baltimore, and he was needed. Chris Davis strained his oblique a few days after the Orioles let Pearce go, and while he could have signed with Toronto, he elected to sign with the Orioles.

At the beginning of the season, it would have been hard to believe that Pearce would have more home runs (11) than J.J. Hardy (3) and Nick Markakis (7) combined.

Pearce has shown power in the minor leagues but because of injuries hasn’t always gotten a true opportunity.

3) Caleb Joseph

It’s hard to call someone who’s batting .187 a surprise, but Caleb Joseph is. Four years ago the Orioles though Joseph could be Matt Wieters backup, but administrations changed, and his progress stalled.

After five years at Bowie, Joseph stayed in spring training until the last few days and impressed with his improved catching.

Joseph moved up to Norfolk and worked hard and when Matt Wieters was hurt, it was Joseph who got the call.

He stayed while Steve Clevenger went back to Norfolk. His hitting was tentative at best in the first few weeks, but he’s thrown out an astounding 52 percent of basestealers.

Joseph’s hitting is going to have to improve if he’s to be more than a backup in the future, but for the past two months, he’s been more than adequate.

4) Nick Hundley

Hundley’s offense, which was supposed to be a strong suit, was weak in his first few weeks with the Orioles. Hundley’s offense has come on recently, and he’s boosted his average to .250 in the last few weeks.

Hundley hit 13 home runs for San Diego last year, and while he has a combined three between the Padres and Orioles, it’s nice to see a catcher who can hit.

His arm isn’t the best. He’s caught just two of 14 basestealers, and that must improve.

While the Orioles say they’re not necessarily in the market for another catcher, Clevenger is back up, at least for the time being, and Hundley has paired well with Joseph.

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5) Brad Brach

Brach’s acquisition last fall was overlooked. He had just three wins in 109 games for San Diego from 2011-13. Brach has bested that in just 18 games. In fact, Brach picked up four wins in seven games.

While some of that can be ascribed to being in the right place at the right time, Brach actually pitched a combined 7 2/3 innings in those four wins, allowing just three hits.

Yes, he has no control over what his offense will do, and they have mounted late-inning comebacks. Brach has put them in a position to score winning runs because he’s held the opposition down.

Like Britton, Hunter, Darren O’Day and Ryan Webb, Brach has managed to avoid the home run ball, and kept the Orioles competitive.

NOTES: On Monday, the Orioles traded Norfolk first baseman Brett Wallace, who they signed late in spring training to Toronto for cash considerations. Bowie first baseman Christian Walker is expected to move up to Triple-A later this week. … Randy Wolf, who pitched briefly for the Orioles in 2012, exercised his opt-out from Norfolk and was released. … Bud Norris allowed three runs on four hits in 4 1/3 innings for Bowie on Monday. He is expected to pitch next Monday in Anaheim.