The Orioles received a boost Sunday with the activation of reliever Darren O’Day off the disabled list after nearly eight weeks out with a high hamstring strain, and were rewarded with a three-strikeout inning in his first outing back.
O’Day pitched a scoreless ninth to deliver the game to the Orioles’ offense, which clinched a 5-3 win on a home run by Nolan Reimold, and said he was surprised how comfortable he was after so long away.
“I think it’s just being gone, being away from the guys and the competition, makes you appreciate what you get to do and to be in the moment and get to pitch in a big spot,” he said. “There’s guys standing out there in 90-something degrees, and to be able to keep that going and perform in that arena, I think it really helped me a lot.”
Manager Buck Showalter, who seems to have long viewed O’Day’s return as a panacea to a pitching staff that has spent much of the last month struggling to stay afloat, said the outing was his All-Star reliever “getting back out there and reminding us what we’ve been missing.”
O’Day relieved Brad Brach, who was nearly spotless in his absence but allowed two runs in a well-in-hand victory Saturday and gave up a one-run lead in the eighth inning Sunday. Before Sunday’s game, Brach said the Indians’ infield combination of Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor had given him trouble all year. Both reached base Saturday and again Sunday.
Before Sunday, the last two times Brach had allowed runs was in the ninth innings of games in which the Orioles led 5-0 -- on June 16 and Saturday.
“It’s one of those things, when I see closers do that, I say, ‘Why do they give up runs when it’s like that? They’re so dominant otherwise,’" Brach said. "I just know I don’t want to fall behind guys, and I’m trying not to walk guys. That’s probably part of the problem. I’m trying not to do that, as opposed to just trying to get them out.”
With the return of O’Day, who has a 3.00 ERA, the Orioles will have a more balanced bullpen that might allow Brach to pitch in some lower-leverage situations.
He’s made 45 appearances this year, with 31 in “close and late” situations with the game within one run, according to Baseball Reference. The return of O’Day should strengthen manager Buck Showalter’s late-inning options, and push the likes of Mychal Givens and Chaz Roe into earlier situations, thereby extending the game in case of some short starts for the Orioles.
To make room for O'Day, left-hander Donnie Hart was optioned to Double-A Bowie. Hart made three appearances for the Orioles since the All-Star break, giving them 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief.
Kim explained rehab carefully: Left fielder Hyun Soo Kim (hamstring strain) is serving as the designated hitter and leading off for Double-A Bowie, and will play left field Monday in anticipation of activation on Tuesday.
Showalter said he carefully explained to Kim the procedures of the disabled list and minor league rehab before he was sent down, and was careful to assure him he’d be returning Tuesday because of the spring training issues the team had in regards to Kim’s unwillingness to take a minor league assignment.
Around the horn: Outfielder DJ Stewart, the Orioles’ 2015 first-round pick, left Saturday night’s game for High-A Frederick with a right pectoral strain and is day-to-day, the team announced. … Shortstop J.J. Hardy got a routine day off Sunday to get Ryan Flaherty into the lineup and protect his recovering lower extremities, Showalter said. … Catcher Matt Wieters improved from Friday to Saturday, and is a candidate to catch again either Monday or Tuesday after being hit with a pitch on the foot on July 18, Showalter said.