WASHINGTON -- With Orioles sluggers Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz struggling, veteran Delmon Young has been getting more playing time in the second half of the season.
Without a designated hitter available in Monday’s interleague makeup game at Nationals Park, though, Young was back on the bench -- where he might be an even more dangerous weapon.
In the Orioles’ 7-3 win against the Nationals, Young had a huge pinch-hit single in a three-run seventh inning that gave his club a lead it never relinquished.
“He got a big hit,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said about Young. “He works so hard at it. I see him rattling in the cage from the first or second inning on, especially in the National League.”
Young’s single helped catapult the Orioles (63-48) to three of four wins against the Nationals (60-50) this season, albeit with the other three being played nearly a month earlier. Monday’s game, before an announced sellout of 42,181, was the makeup from the July 8 rainout and wiped out an Orioles day off on their way to Toronto.
Based on the results, the extra day of work was worth it for the Orioles, who moved to four games ahead of the idle Blue Jays in the American League East division heading into a three-game series that starts Tuesday.
“Feels good to be in first place, but we've got a big target on our backs and guys are going to be coming after us,” said rookie catcher Caleb Joseph, who had a solo homer and a two-run single to push his season average to .218. “So we've got to finish out what we came to do and continue to go out and play solid baseball.”
The Orioles planned to fly to Toronto directly after the game -- and so they won’t get settled before their big series until early Tuesday morning.
“It was a tough one, and then again tomorrow and the next day,” Showalter said. “These guys [may] get to sleep around 5 or 6 [a.m.]. There is not a peep out of them, complaint-wise. It's part of what we have to go through to get what we're trying to get done.”
For six innings, the Nationals clung to a lead as the Orioles could manage just two solo homers against tough Washington right-hander Tanner Roark. In the seventh, J.J. Hardy and Ryan Flaherty hit consecutive doubles to tie the game at 3. After Joseph’s sacrifice bunt moved Flaherty to third, Young pinch-hit for pitcher Kevin Gausman and singled to center field to score Flaherty, break the tie and chase Roark (11-7).
It was the ninth pinch-hit and fourth RBI for Young in 17 at-bats off the bench this season (.529 average). With roughly two months to play, Young is already tied with the seventh-most pinch-hits in an Orioles season since 1974. The last time an Orioles player had at least nine pinch-hits in a season was Jeff Conine in 1999.
So how much fun is going 9-for-17 as a pinch-hitter with the Orioles after going 6-for-27 as a pinch-hitter in his previous eight seasons, which were mostly spent as a regular in the AL?
“It’s awesome, because if I went 0-for-17, I might not be here,” Young laughed.
In January, the Orioles signed the 28-year-old Young, the 2003 No. 1 overall pick, with the understanding that he would primarily be used off the bench. He started just 25 of the Orioles’ 94 first-half games but has started seven of 17 since the All-Star break.
"I see the work he does, the things he did in the offseason,” Showalter said. “We had a good conversation when he first came to camp, talked about signing, what was expected. He's been beyond that, work-habit wise. He's a professional.”
Young later scored the Orioles’ fifth run in on a bases-loaded RBI single by Adam Jones. Joseph’s two-run single in the eighth put the game out of reach.
Gausman (6-3) battled against the Nationals, putting a runner on base in all six innings he pitched. He continually wiggled out of jams and got some help from his defense, including a nice stab of a hard grounder by Davis with runners on the corners to end the sixth.
“That was huge. That might be a double there. It might score two,” Gausman said. “He was right there and made a great play.”
The Orioles’ impressive rookie allowed one run in three consecutive innings: a homer to Wilson Ramos in the second, a sacrifice fly by Jayson Werth to score Denard Span in the third inning, and, in the fourth, Bryce Harper scored on a double play by Ramos.
Gausman lasted six innings, giving up three runs, eight hits and two walks. It was his third straight quality start and sixth in 11 outings this season.
“I definitely had to grind through that one,” Gausman said. “It was tough for me at the start. I think it was kind of huge to get through six there.”
The Orioles gave Gausman the lead as soon as he was removed from the game for the pinch-hitting Young. Up until that point, Roark had pitched fairly well, allowing Joseph’s homer in the third and Nick Markakis’ in the fifth. It was Markakis’ 10th homer of the season and second in two games and Joseph’s fifth home run and second in three days.
Roark was ultimately charged with five earned runs in 6 1/3 innings, the most he has allowed in one start since May 3. The 27-year-old right-hander entered Monday on a four-game winning streak.
Throughout the night, the bipartisan crowd roared back and forth -- with a late “Let’s Go Nats” chant being drowned by “Let’s Go O’s.”
“Oh, yeah. I noticed in the dugout,” Gausman said. “You know it’s weird cause O’s and Nats [sound] kind of close. You definitely could tell it was more O’s than Nats, I thought.”
Ultimately, the Orioles escaped with the victory and are now 11-6 since the All-Star break.
After scoring just six runs in the past four games, they exploded for 14 hits and seven runs Monday against a good pitching staff. And if they can keep doing that, the Orioles like their chances in the AL East.
“If our offense can do what it did today with the way we have been pitching,” Young said, “we’re going to have a lot of fun the rest of the year.”