BOSTON – The Orioles are right. It is far too early to be worried about them.
Diehard fans will be quick to note that the team was never below .500 last year, but through seven games, the team isn’t playing badly. Other than wobbly starts by Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman, the starting pitching has been decent.
The bullpen had a rough outing in the second game last Wednesday at Tampa Bay when Luis Ayala, Pedro Strop and Tommy Hunter combined to allow six runs in 2 1/3 innings.
While the starters have kept the Orioles in most of their games, and they were able to overcome Arrieta’s messy Opening Day for a win, the team that won 93 games last year is 3-4.
Without Brian Roberts, who was lost for a few weeks on Thursday with a strained right hamstring, and Wilson Betemit, who badly sprained a knee ligament two weeks ago, the bottom of the lineup is scuffling.
Betemit was set to be the left-handed hitting designated hitter. The switch-hitter bats much better from the left side, but after watching his DH’s go an awful 1-for-23 in the first seven games, he’d surely take a full-time Betemit there.
After his frightening collapse on March 25, it was thought Betemit could be lost for the entire season, but the next day he was told it may only be two months. Already two weeks have passed, and he’s in a better mood, but the team is finding out how much he’s been missed.
Without Roberts, Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla are the second baseman. With no punch for the DH position and those two at second, that’s been making for two empty spots in the order.
Flaherty is 0-for-14 with six strikeouts. Casilla is just 1-for-4, but it wouldn’t be surprising if manager Buck Showalter put him into the lineup on Wednesday against Ryan Dempster.
By Thursday, the Orioles hope to have Nolan Reimold back. Reimold left Sunday’s game with a tight hamstring, but he says he should be able to play on Wednesday. Showalter certainly wants him back by Thursday when the left-handed Felix Doubront pitches.
Reimold accounts for the only hit in the DH spot, and if he can hit well, either in left field or as the DH, the lack of offense from second base can be masked.
Showalter says that Roberts is talking about a quick recovery. The initial estimation is that he should be gone three-four weeks. Flaherty, Casilla or Yamaico Navarro, who was around the team on Monday in case Reimold had to be put on the disabled list, don’t appear to be long-term solutions at second.
Next year’s second baseman could be Jonathan Schoop, who’s busy playing shortstop at Norfolk, but it’s probably too early to think about him at second. They hope that Roberts can somehow make it through the final year of his contract.
Showalter didn’t much like the suggestion offered after Monday’s game that perhaps the Norfolk shuttle should get in motion. Steve Pearce who made the club because of Betemit’s injury and his outstanding spring, is 0-for-10 with five strikeouts. He has never been a successful major league player.
Pearce beat out a host of other non-roster first baseman/outfielder-DH types to win the job. Many of them—Russ Canzler, Chris Dickerson, Lew Ford, Conor Jackson and Jason Pridie have similar resumes, with success in the minors and mixed results in the majors.
Not all of them play first base, but the Orioles are committed to Chris Davis, whose hitting has been memorable even if his first base play hasn’t been spectacular. Davis’ error on Saturday night cost the team a game.
The Orioles have Danny Valencia on the 40-man roster, and perhaps he’ll soon get a shot. Valencia’s calling card is an ability to hit left-handed pitching. He worked at first base during spring training. His best position is third, and obviously with Manny Machado playing a brilliant third, he shouldn’t be needed there.
Davis’ heroics, Adam Jones’ important hits and Nick Markakis’ have been the offensive hallmarks of the first week. The team’s on-base percentage is a strong .346 while Matt Wieters and Taylor Teagarden have thrown out five of six base stealers. The Orioles are five for six in stealing.
Seven games is a very small sample. The team’s depth will certainly be tested, and it will be interesting to see when executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette starts calling on the players he signed over the winter for help.