Starting with today's series opener against the Texas Rangers, the Orioles will play 14 games in as many days until the All-Star break. And their biggest challenge might be how to assemble a roster that keeps them competitive on a nightly basis.
The result of third baseman Manny Machado's suspension appeal still looms. He had his appeal hearing at the Warehouse on Wednesday, and the club is waiting to hear whether the five-game suspension will be reduced. An announcement is expected over the next 48 hours.
Machado must begin serving his suspension immediately after the appeal verdict is announced, so the Orioles are prepared to play one player short of the typical 25-man roster. They’re hoping to recall infielder Jemile Weeks, who flew to the Baltimore area and played for short-season Single-A Aberdeen on Saturday and Sunday.
The Orioles’ bigger conundrum is preserving the club’s bullpen. Left-hander T.J. McFarland, used exclusively as a reliever in the major leagues this season, is the most likely candidate to make Tuesday’s spot start against the Rangers.
“The timing is never good,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Machado's pending suspension, “especially with some of the pending things because you'd like to do some things with an infielder. But where we are with the bullpen is going to make that hard to do.”
In Sunday’s loss, Showalter kept left-hander Brian Matusz in the game to pitch 2 1/3 innings following a seven-run sixth inning, the most Matusz has thrown since he pitched 2 2/3 innings in an 8-4 win over the Boston Red Sox on April 18.
It’s not totally unusual for a non-long relief pitcher to have to throw several innings if a game gets out of hand. But Showalter brought Matusz into the game for a situational appearance -- down 5-4 with two runners on base and two outs to face James Loney, a left-handed hitter.
Loney doubled in two runs, making it 7-4, and Matusz remained in the game against a right-handed-hitting-heavy Rays lineup. Right-handers are hitting .317 off Matusz this season.
Showalter said after the game that he would have brought in right-hander Ryan Webb had Matusz walked Loney. But with the Rays taking a three-run lead, Showalter saved one of his late-inning relief pitchers for another day.
Showalter said three relievers were off limits Sunday: He wasn’t going to pitch McFarland or Brad Brach, who accounted for 3 2/3 innings in the previous two days.
“All our guys know that's the corner you paint yourself into when you have those types of challenges,” Showalter said. "Not the first time, won't be the last time. It happened in 2012, it happened in 2013. We've just got to work our way out of it. A couple of good starts and we'll be back on our feet.”
Showalter has been masterful at keeping his bullpen fresh, and this might be one of his toughest challenges. The club could make a move to send down right-hander Evan Meek, who struggled in one inning Sunday and pitched two innings in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader.
But the options in the minors aren’t extremely enticing, especially since right-hander Josh Stinson was scratched from his start Sunday with a lat strain.
Kevin Gausman could return Tuesday, but where he fits in the rotation -- if he does -- is unclear. He’s having a work day Monday in Aberdeen and didn’t pitch well in his last start after one week of rest and being shuttled from the minors.
The key will be getting deeper starts from the rotation. That puts a little more pressure on right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez on Monday. If McFarland starts Tuesday, it’s unclear how long he could pitch because he hasn’t made a start since May 17 with Triple-A Norfolk.
There are a lot of questions facing the Orioles in the next few days, and how they answer them will have a lot to say with how they end their last 14 games before the All-Star break.