BOSTON – Orioles rookie third baseman Jonathan Schoop is still trying to feel his way through his first real opportunity to contribute as a major leaguer.
The organization’s top position player prospect, Schoop has had his share of growing pains under a particularly bright spotlight as he’s filled in at for injured Gold Glover Manny Machado.
The 22-year-old didn't experience much pain on Friday. In the Orioles' first trip to Fenway Park this season, Schoop helped rally the Orioles to an 8-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox with his first career four-hit game in front of an announced crowd of 36,408.
“It feels good, especially if you win and get a W,” Schoop said after the Orioles (8-7) won their third straight game, seventh of their last 10 and moved above .500 for the first time since Opening Day. “It feels really, really good.”
The Orioles improved to 15-6 at Fenway Park since September 20, 2011 and their 34 wins against the Red Sox since the start of the 2011 season are more than any American League East team.
Schoop, who opened the season with just two hits in his first 18 at bats, is now riding a seven-game hitting streak and is hitting .429 (12-for-28) in that span.
"As intense as those games are at this level, you do step back and watch Jon,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It's fun to watch. He's got a great look on his face. He's just, real sincere, earnest look. He's not giddy. That's what I like about him. He's going to be a good defender whichever infield position he ends up playing. He's just now getting his clock kind of settled in at third base. I think we're seeing some of the results of that."
Schoop drove in the Orioles’ final two runs of the game. With the O’s leading 6-3 in the seventh, he laced a two-out RBI double down the left-field line off Boston reliever Burke Badenhop to plate a run. Then in the ninth, with the Orioles clinging to a 7-4 lead, Schoop took a 1-1 delivery from Edward Mujica off the Green Monster for an RBI double.
Schoop also opened a three-run rally in the third inning with a leadoff infield single to shortstop. He came in to score on Nick Markakis’ RBI double and later that inning, Nelson Cruz’s two-out, two-run single put the Orioles up 4-0.
Heading into the game Friday, Orioles Opening Day starter Chris Tillman knew firsthand how the Red Sox lineup can wear an opposing pitcher down. Boston’s relentlessness in the batter’s box – the way they create deep counts and raise pitchers’ pitch counts -- is well known.
“Always has been and I think it always will be [tough],” Tillman said of Boston. “I inflicted more pain on myself than normal. I think I was kind of shaky with the fastball command tonight, but these guys always fight until the very end. They were fouling pitches off, they were taking good pitches, taking tough pitches, and when you make a mistake they capitalize on it. It's tough."
Just as they did on Opening Day, the Red Sox drew Tillman’s pitch count up by battling their way into deep counts, chasing the right-hander from the game after five innings.
Even though Tillman labored throughout his outing – he pitched just one clean inning -- he continued his success against Boston, improving to 5-2 in his career against the Red Sox. Over his last 10 starts against the Red Sox, Tillman is 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA. He’s had six quality starts in that span.
The Red Sox (7-10) began to rally against Tillman with two outs in the fourth inning, when Brock Holt ended a 10-pitch at bat with an RBI single to center to score Mike Carp.
Tillman gutted out a 31-pitch fifth inning despite allowing two runs. Dustin Pedroia’s run-scoring single followed Daniel Nava’s leadoff double to score the first run and A.J. Pierzynski’s two-out single plated Pedroia.
On Tillman’s 122nd pitch of the night -- three shy of his career high – he struck out Jackie Bradley Jr. to end the inning.
Tillman (2-1) allowed three runs on seven hits over five innings – the first time he’s allowed more than one earned run through four 2014 starts – and had five strikeouts and four walks.
Even though it marked Tillman’s roughest outing, he still owns a 1.71 ERA this season.
"It was a struggle,” Tillman said. “I knew it was going to be a struggle from the get-go. It was a night where I was battling myself the whole time. Luckily, I was able to execute some pitches when I was in trouble and get through it."
The Orioles bullpen picked up for Tillman, allowing just one run in four innings, including 2 2/3 innings from left-hander Brian Matusz, his longest career outing at a reliever. Right-hander Darren O’Day threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings to end the game and earn his first save of the year.
“I think it’s important to come in here and take Game 1,” Matusz said. “Be able to start out the road trip on a good note and get that W. Regardless of coming in for multiple innings or a single hitter, go out there and get a job done. Fortunately, I was able to go out there for a couple innings and now the bullpen is semi-fresh for the next couple games.”
Getting multiple innings from two relievers and being able to save the bullpen for the remaining six games of this seven-game road trip to AL East cities Boston and Toronto was important.
"You're trying not to use four or five guys out of the 'pen in the first game,” Showalter said. “We've got Toronto behind them and they're tough everywhere, especially up there. That was something I was thinking in the dugout.
"Tilly made a big pitch there at the end on Bradley and he made another one the inning before. It was a challenge for him, but he deserved that. If the guy hadn't had a fister base hit, I probably would have gotten him there, but it's tough to take Tilly out there after that."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun