The Orioles will wake up in Milwaukee today for their third straight day game, this one against a Brewers team that has the second-best record in the National League.
It will open a 10-game, 11-day road trip that will take them to Milwaukee, Houston and Texas, their first three-city road trip of the season.
And this is the most important stretch of the season so far.
Left-hander Zach Britton converted his second save in as many opportunities in Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Cleveland Indians.
Even though he threw 18 pitches, Britton pitched a perfect ninth inning. No base runners means no worries about a blown save, and that means happy fans.
“It was three up, three down, right?” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It felt like it. I know that’s something that makes everybody watching feel more comfortable.”
After the game, Showalter indicated that he wouldn’t necessarily always use Britton in the ninth. He’s certainly getting that opportunity now, especially with Tommy Hunter on the disabled list.
“I think it's too early,” Showalter said when asked about Britton adjusting to opportunities to close games. “He's had a couple of chances to pitch the last three outs, and there will be some times when he'll need to get us some big outs in the seventh or eighth, depending on the situation. It was a challenging strike zone today.”
Since his first save opportunity, Britton has posted 5 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits in that span. That included two scoreless innings in Thursday’s 13-inning loss to the Indians.
There was some slight concern in the ninth when Britton caught his spike in the grass while making a nice play on a high chopper to the left of the mound by Ryan Raburn. Head trainer Richie Bancells came out to the mound to check on Britton.
Britton said he was fine. He looked to third base to make sure Manny Machado wasn’t going to make the play before he fielded it and got his spike caught in the ground as he made the throw to first base to get Raburn by less than a step.
Britton grimaced after making the play, but he remained in the game.
Still, Britton made a big defensive play to prevent a base runner from reaching safely and changing the entire dynamic of the ninth inning.
“That's something he and our guys worked diligently on this spring,” Showalter said of the emphasis on pitchers' defense. “Especially Zach and Brian [Matusz] have really improved. Today was a good example.”
-- Steve Pearce continues to contribute when he receives playing time. With Chris Davis on the paternity list for the birth of his first child, Pearce was 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI in Sunday’s win.
Pearce also made a nice play to start a 3-6-3 double play in the third inning after Miguel Gonzalez allowed the leadoff runner on base.
He won’t get much credit, but Pearce has been an instrumental part of the Orioles’ success this season, especially after he refused a waiver claim in order to re-sign with the club after he was designated for assignment.
“He loves the Orioles,” Showalter said of Pearce. “He loves being here, and he loves being a part of this. It meant something to him to stay here. He had the opportunity to go elsewhere, and I think, if it wasn’t for the opportunity to trust in his teammates and the people here, he might have left. I’ve said it many times. He’s a professional player and he gets it.
“We took him on, it seemed like, every road trip in the spring, and he was happy to play. He gets what he has, and he doesn’t assume it. No sense of entitlement at all, and that’s a pretty good compliment.”
-- It might be too soon to consider right-hander Preston Guilmet as Dan Duquette’s latest out-of-nowhere find, but he has done well in the short time he has been in the major leagues this year.
Guilmet, who was able to return to the 25-man roster when the team placed Davis on the paternity list, tossed another scoreless inning Sunday.
In five hitless innings, Guilmet has retired 15 of the 16 batters he has faced while recording six strikeouts.
That’s not bad for a guy who had just 5 1/3 innings of major league experience -- and a 10.13 ERA -- entering the season. The Orioles acquired him last month for 2012 eighth-round pick Torsten Boss.
-- I asked Nelson Cruz, who hit his major league-leading 16th home run Sunday, after the game what his response would be if someone told him before the season that he’d be leading the majors in homers in late-May.
“Probably,” he laughed. “It’s a hard game, and you can’t dictate or take anything for granted. You just focus day by day and do the things I’m able to control, go out there and play baseball.”
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