The Orioles don’t necessarily need an explosive offensive effort every night if they can get the kind of solid starting pitching performance they received Saturday evening from Wei-Yin Chen.
They just need to make sure they get some offense – especially at home. And especially now that they are going to have to get through the next few weeks without their most powerful hitter, first baseman Chris Davis, whose MRI of his left oblique Saturday showed a strain severe enough to warrant a 15-day disabled list stint.
In their first full game without Davis, the Orioles needed 10 innings and a couple gifts from the Kansas City Royals’ defense, but they pulled out a 3-2 victory. They scored their winning run on a hit batsman, two pitcher’s fielding errors on bunts and then a clutch single by Nick Markakis.
“We got fortunate with the hit by pitch, a couple good bunts and Nicky put a good swing on a ball,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter.
Kansas City reliever Danny Duffy (1-1), who hadn’t allowed a run in 8 1/3 innings this year, started the 10th by hitting Jonathan Schoop in the right hand with a 96-mph fastball. David Lough followed with a bunt back to Duffy, who threw into center field, allowing Schoop to reach second safely.
Jemile Weeks also bunted back to Duffy, who committed another error by throwing high to first. That miscue loaded the bases with no outs. After a strikeout of Nelson Cruz by Royals reliever Louis Coleman, Markakis flared a ball that bounced near the left-field line for a game-winning single. Markakis, a former Gold Glove right fielder, was batting third and playing first base to fill Davis’ absence.
“It was an interesting day. Long day,” Markakis said. “Get to the ballpark, ‘Hey, you are playing first base.’ All right, strap it up and let’s go.”
The Orioles have scored three runs or fewer in 13 of their 23 games this season and are 5-8 in those 13. In their 10 home games this season, they have scored three runs or fewer nine times.
“The cooperation will have to come from the other team not pitching as well as they could,” Showalter said. “It’s not like you say 'look at my track record offensively and you’re supposed to drop to your knees.' These [pitchers] are good at what they do.”
It won’t get any easier Sunday, when the Orioles (12-11) face ace James Shields in the rubber match of the three-game series with the Royals (11-12).
Chen failed to pick up his fourth win of the season, but he pitched well enough for the victory, allowing two runs on nine hits and two walks. After not getting beyond 6 1/3 innings in any of his previous four starts, Chen made it through the seventh Saturday. He struck out his final batter – for a season-best six strikeouts – and pumped his fist in a rare show of emotion while the announced crowd of 34,941 cheered.
“Overall my control was very good tonight so I feel happy about my performance,” Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. “My slider was working real well tonight and it makes a good combination with my fastball.”
After allowing eight earned runs in his first two starts, Chen has given up six in his last three, lowering his season ERA to 4.34.
The problem Saturday for Chen was that the Orioles offense – which is without Davis and third baseman Manny Machado, who is the minors on a rehab assignment in his attempt to come back soon from offseason knee surgery – couldn’t do much against a familiar face.
Kansas City right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, who pitched for the Orioles from 2007 to 2011 and was the club’s Opening Day starter three times, had pitched against his old club twice previously in his career – both last season.
He allowed a total of two earned runs in those two starts over 12 innings; On Saturday night, Guthrie allowed two earned runs to the first four batters he faced.
Weeks, who was making his Orioles debut after being recalled Saturday from Triple-A Norfolk, led off the first with a nine-pitch battle against Guthrie that ended with a single to center. Cruz drew a walk and Markakis, who was starting at first base for just the third time his lengthy career, singled to right to score Weeks.
Adam Jones’ groundout plated Cruz and made it an early 2-0 lead. Guthrie, who entered the night with a 4.68 ERA in four starts this season, settled in after that 26-pitch inning.
He didn’t allow another baserunner until J.J. Hardy’s single in the fourth or another run for the rest of his outing. Guthrie lasted seven innings for the second time this season, giving up six hits and one walk while striking out three in the no-decision. He now has a 1.90 ERA in three starts versus the Orioles.
“Guthrie was real good,” Showalter said. “Fortunately, Wei-Yin was just as good.”
Weeks attempted to get things going again in the fifth with a two-out triple to the right-center gap that right fielder Nori Aoki nearly tracked down before just missing and falling to the ground. The speedy Weeks sprinted around the bases, but was stranded at third when Cruz was called out looking by umpire Quinn Wolcott.
Five Orioles relievers held the Royals scoreless through the final three innings. Zach Britton (3-0) struck out the only batter he faced to pick up the win.
The club is now 1-0 without Davis, who finished third in the MVP race last season. It’ll be interesting to see how these Orioles respond. They’ve already altered a team tradition. Instead of being pied in the face after his game-winning hit Saturday, Markakis was presented with a post-game pie to eat – complete with a plastic utensil – by Hardy.
“It’s tough to lose a guy like [Davis]. But we have depth, we have guys that can come up and fill in. And that’s what guys have been doing,” Markakis said. “Jemile today, for example, he led off the game, base hit, get things going. We end up scoring two runs off that.
“We have confidence in our guys and in our system. To be a successful baseball team guys are going to have to come up and fill in and help out.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun