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baltimoresun.com

Even when getting ahead, Orioles starters struggling with pitch counts

By Eduardo A. Encina

The Baltimore Sun

9:46 AM EDT, April 23, 2014

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TORONTO — Tuesday night's 9-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays marked the fifth time in the past six games that an Orioles starter has failed to go six full innings.

When it comes to the Orioles' starting rotation, it's an increasingly common storyline, and it's forcing too much stress on the team's bullpen.

We’ve seen this before. It happened last year. It was a point of emphasis in structuring the team in the offseason.

But now, it's happening again.

After Tuesday's game, manager Buck Showalter said the Orioles aren’t alone, that it’s been a struggle throughout the league for starters. He said he spoke with one of the club’s West Coast scouts, who mentioned the same thing before Tuesday’s game.

But in a situation like Tuesday’s, when Gonzalez was dominating for five innings before unraveling in the sixth, it is glaring. Early on, it looked like Gonzalez was a cinch for seven innings, but he didn’t get out of the sixth. 

“I think we’re getting guys 0-2 a lot, and we’re getting to 3-2 [counts],” said Steve Clevenger, who caught Gonzalez on Tuesday. “That can’t happen. When we get 0-2, we have to put the guys away and make pitches, make better quality pitches. That should keep the pitch counts down and get our pitchers further in the game.”

Through his first five innings Tuesday, Gonzalez threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of 19 batters, so he was working ahead of hitters, but he still ended up burying himself with deep counts.

“You’ve just got to stay ahead and get guys as soon as possible not try to do too much and make better pitches,” a frustrated Gonzalez said after the game.

Gonzalez had seven 0-2 counts. Each of those at-bats led to outs, but he was only able to put a batter away three pitches into the at-bat once.

In the third inning, he had Jose Reyes 0-2, but went through a seven-pitch at-bat before striking him out.

In the first inning, Gonzalez was ahead of Edwin Encarnacion 1-2, but needed 10 pitches to strike him out.

Then in the sixth, he started off each of the first three hitters with a ball, and he paid for it. An error put the first runner on, and Jose Bautista followed with a single to center.

Then, Encarnacion sat on a 1-1 fastball and crushed it over the center-field wall to tie the game at 3. Gonzalez left the game with two outs in the sixth after throwing 102 pitches.

The Blue Jays usually are an aggressive club offensively, not afraid to swing the bat. They chase high and low, often looking to put a ball into the stands.

So seeing them work counts from 0-2 is new. But maybe they’ve seen the book on the Orioles starters. Maybe they’ve seen how it has worked for the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees -- two lineups known for their ability to work counts -- and they’re employing it, too.

Now, it’s time to for the Orioles’ starters to make adjustments on their end.