SARASOTA, Fla. – For the second time in Buck Showalter’s three springs as Orioles manager, his team has won three straight to begin the exhibition season.
The Orioles 5-1 win over the New York Yankees before 7,335 at Ed Smith Stadium on Monday was uneventful, and that’s a good thing. Showalter is keeping some of his best pitchers under a bubble wrap, afraid of overusing them in this extra long spring.
In five weeks of exhibition games, pitching coach Rick Adair calculated that a starter could pitch eight times in games that don’t count, and that’s far too many.
With Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Jason Hammel, Jim Johnson and Darren O’Day on the sidelines, the rest of the pitchers have held opponents to eight runs.
On Monday, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter, Pedro Strop, Mark Hendrickson, Mike Wright and Zach Clark shut out the Yankees, who brought no boldface names along with them. Non-roster reliever Adam Russell allowed a run in the ninth.
“All our guys pitched well,” Showalter said.
Three games into a spring schedule that won’t end until Mar. 30, Showalter doesn’t want to make far reaching generalizations.
“It’s way too early,” he concludes. “There are some things I’m happy with.”
Showalter mentioned the team’s outfield play, and the infield defense looks solid with Chris Davis looking comfortable at first. Having Manny Machado with his added experience at third and perhaps a healthy Brian Roberts helps, too.
"We've pitched pretty well so far. If we do that, you've got a chance in spring training early on. Arms are usually ahead of the hitters a little bit," Showalter said.
Matusz, who was abruptly converted to a reliever last season, desperately wants to return to the starting rotation. He made a positive impression in his first outing this spring.
“It was nice to get out there and get the first one out of the way, kind of get in the rhythm again. It’s been a while since I’ve been a starter. It’s nice to work on the routine again and try and find that,” Matusz said.
It’s unlikely that Matusz will return to the rotation. The Orioles have too many candidates to start and many viable left-handed options in the bullpen, but Matusz doesn’t want to be consigned to the late innings.
For the second straight game, Showalter allowed his starter to go two innings.
“It was nice to be able to go two and get a base and something to go off of,” Matusz said.
Matusz faced a no-name Yankees lineup that featured several players wearing uniform numbers in the 90s. New York has so many in camp and so many retired uniforms numbers that they have several instances of two players assigned the same number.
The Yankees lineup featured only one player, Brett Gardner, who appeared in last October’s Division Series, and only one other projected regular, catcher Francisco Cervelli. Curtis Granderson, who suffered a broken right forearm on Sunday, will be out 10 weeks, and two candidates to replace him, Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz, were on hand, too.
Gardner and Jayson Nix began the game with singles, but Matusz did not allow another baserunner.
“I thought I felt good from the get-go. Gardner, he’s a tough out. He puts the ball on the ground. You’ve got to be perfect. He’s so fast. Nix, a little bleeder. Those type of things happen. Nice to be able to bounce back and get good defense,” Matusz said.
“I was able to fall into a rhythm.”