A light-hearted pregame media session with Orioles manager Buck Showalter that had far more college football talk than baseball revealed one common theme with his team, winners of two straight and carriers of a good feeling around them that hasn’t been present in months.
Between their bench additions and the return of some key contributors from their 2014 division championship team who have helped on and off the field, it seems that the 2016 Orioles are a complete team for the first time in months.
Start with the bullpen, which has had veteran Tommy Hunter raising spirits in it for a week already. Hunter has already pitched three times in that span in games that were out of reach either way, and taken stress off the late-inning trio of Zach Britton, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens. Those three lined up for three scoreless innings behind a superb Kevin Gausman Saturday, in part because they haven’t needed to pitch in other situations recently.
“It’s hard to win a major league game, and it’s had to have that chain,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Mychal did his job. Brad did his job. Zach did his job. It all started with Gausman doing his job. That’s why you want to get as deep as you can with a starter, because that chain is hard to have fit every night. And if you’re doing that every night, the pitchers can’t do that physically. You just can’t do that to them.
“That’s what’s been good about getting Tommy here. You just need somebody — they may not go out and get six guys out in a row, but they don’t implode. They take the stress out of a game that you’re way behind or way ahead, and allow you to have some bullets to fight another day. But we’re in that stage of the season where you’re not doing the, ‘Let’s do this for two months down the road.’ If we don’t do it well, we’re not going to have two months down the road. But a lot of things have changed.”
That’s to say nothing of the addition of Hunter back in the clubhouse. He joined a bullpen last week in New York where a mid-game phone call almost certainly meant a young pitcher would come into a game, throw multiple innings, then get sent down. Those appearances weren’t going well, but Hunter has lifted everyone’s spirits in a way that’s been welcome by the entire group.
The other area they were completed was in the outfield. From the July 31 trade for Steve Pearce to the Aug. 31 additions of Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn. The former added a right-handed bat who it seems now is a feasible alternative to Hyun Soo Kim in right field.
Pearce was handed Sunday’s start over Kim because he has a good track record against Yankees starter Michael Pineda, but also because Showalter wanted to get him two starts and keep him involved.
Since coming from the Tampa Bay Rays, Pearce has hit .244 with three home runs and an .842 OPS while battling elbow issues. In that same span, Kim has hit .273 with a .715 OPS. It hasn’t been the straight left-right platoon that was expected, however, and Showalter noted how all the recent improvements have given them a lot of options off the bench that they didn’t have before.
Even if Bourn and Stubbs are here primarily for their defense, the lack of bats on the bench has also been hard for the Orioles to manage this year.
“It’s nice to have both of those guys,” Showalter said. “They’ve both played center field more than anything else. Michael’s a little more left field, Drew is a little more right field, but I feel comfortable playing them anywhere. This time of year, if you can get during the course of a game, depending on the situation, what’s been tough for [bench coach John Russell] and I during the year is [when] certain guys are going to lead off the next inning. Do you play them defensively for another inning with the idea that you might need that at-bat? That’s always tough.”
Around the horn: Showalter said left-hander Brian Duensing (elbow) will be added to the roster on Monday, and is joining the Orioles at Camden Yards Sunday before their flight to Tampa. That will require the creation of a 40-man roster spot, as will another possible move, Showalter said. He mentioned reliever Pedro Beato and infielder Paul Janish as possible non-roster additions. … Right-hander Chris Tillman (shoulder bursitis) and reliever Darren O’Day (rotator cuff strain) had bullpen and half-mound sessions Sunday, respectively, though Showalter did not have an update. ... The Orioles will begin a camp for possible late-season additions to stay active at on Friday in Sarasota. Showalter listed catchers Audry Perez and Chance Sisco, left-handers Kyle Lobstein and T.J. McFarland, right-hander Parker Bridwell, first baseman Trey Mancini, and outfielders Dariel Alvarez, Chris Dickerson, Julio Borbon, and Christian Walker as possibilities to go there. Some of those players’ statuses depend on whether they’re used as countermoves for their pending roster additions, he said.