By Dan Connolly
The Baltimore Sun
10:36 AM EDT, April 29, 2013
The Orioles won three of four in Oakland, and most of the correspondence I received from fans Sunday was about how they blew the series finale.
That’s a good sign, I guess. You aren’t content with any loss. Been a long time since that was the case (OK, so maybe in the past you weren’t content, just resigned.)
Anyway, as I flew to Seattle from Oakland after Sunday’s game, a couple things stuck with me based on your tweets and emails.
One: Many of you are unhappy with reliever Pedro Strop. Dating back to the final six weeks of the regular season, Strop hasn’t been the same consistently dominating pitcher as he was in last year’s first half.
And several of you told me that he needs to be sent to the minors. What I didn't realize when I was flying -- and it serves me right for trying to write at 3 a.m. Eastern -- is that Strop is out of minor league options. That means the Orioles would have to try to get him through waivers before they could send him down. And there's absolutely no way someone with that arm and a solid enough track record would get through. And there's also no way the Orioles could afford to lose that arm.
Right now, Strop probably shouldn’t be used in late-inning close games. And the Orioles have the luxury of having Jim Johnson, Darren O’Day and Brian Matusz to pitch in those situations.
Strop has had some good outings. And yesterday’s loss had more to do with errors than poor pitching from Strop. In the 10th he gave up one single up the middle before the two sacrifice bunts.
I’m not making excuses for him. Strop needs to pitch better. And if he doesn’t, maybe eventually they'll have to cut take the risk of trying to send him down. But they absolutely can't do that now. I would just pick my spots with Strop for a little while longer, so long as he can get the ball over the plate.
Many of you wondered why Buck Showalter stuck with lefty Brian Matusz against right-handed hitting slugger Yoenis Cespedes with a two-run lead and one on in the ninth. Cespedes torpedoed the decision by crushing a low changeup – not a bad pitch – over the wall in left.
Simple answer: Matusz was the best option at that moment, regardless of which arm he throws with. O’Day had been used. Tommy Hunter, who has a tendency to give up longballs, was being saved for further extra innings on Sunday or as the primary longman Monday if Zach Britton can’t go deep in his 2013 big league debut.
And Strop shouldn’t be put in that situation right now if at all possible.
The easy thing to do was to roll Johnson out there again. But he had pitched in five of the club’s last six games. Showalter was adamant that wasn’t an option.
And I agree. I have seen so many Orioles managers over the years handle a bullpen as if it were the seventh game of the World Series and not a 162-game season. I’ve seen managers go to the same guy game after game because he is the most effective hurler – only to lose that pitcher to fatigue or arm injury by the all-star break.
Showalter is not a perfect manager. He makes mistakes in judgment at times. Everyone does. But he is by far the best I’ve ever seen in handling a bullpen. He lost the battle Sunday, but I bet you Johnson is ready for the war in September.
Plus, we’ll learn plenty about Matusz in the coming days and weeks. A good reliever can bounce back after failure. Matusz has been consistently strong out of the bullpen. Now he encountered a disappointing moment. How he responds is crucial.
Showalter said before Sunday’s game that the Orioles were still looking to add a backup catcher, but the market was thin.
Hours later the Orioles added one in veteran Chris Snyder in a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Angels. He’ll take over for Taylor Teagarden (dislocated thumb) as Matt Wieters' backup.
Luis Exposito was called up Sunday to take that role, but frankly, he hadn’t done anything offensively or defensively to claim the job. (He was hitting .218 in 18 games at Triple-A and was unsuccessful in throwing out would-be basestealers in 15 of 16 attempts). He’ll likely go back to Triple-A Norfolk and try to keep improving. He is only 26.
Snyder has some pop, but he’s not known as a particularly good defensive catcher. In fact, I asked people in the organization in March if they would try to make a run at Snyder (who was preparing to opt out in Washington) and was told that he was viewed as a defensive downgrade in comparison to Teagarden and his hitting was on par (some pop, low average)..
With Teagarden out, though, the Orioles needed an upgrade over their minor league catchers, and Snyder should be that. He is expected in uniform Tuesday in Seattle.
Britton makes his first start of the year for the Orioles on Monday. Expect him to throw sinkers and more sinkers. It is what has made him successful in the past, and he got away from that as his primary game plan in 2012. In his two good starts at Norfolk this year he threw more than 80 percent sinkers.
He won’t do it at that rate in the big leagues – you have to mix it up some – but I’d expect he’ll use his sinker more often this time around than he did when he pitched to a 5-plus ERA last year. Don’t forget Britton was once the most promising pitcher in the organization and he is 25. Still time for him to figure things out.
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