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Orioles thoughts and observations: Wild-card race, curious bullpen moves and Machado's growing pains

On Tuesday night, the momentum of the Orioles' September push for a postseason berth took a hit in the eighth inning of a 7-5 loss to the New York Yankees at Camden Yards.

Instead of pushing the Yankees to 2 1/2 games back of them in the American League East standings and cutting the Tampa Bay Rays' wild-card lead to 1/2 game, the Orioles did their part to bunch the wild-card standings once again.

With a win, the Orioles would have ensured that the Yankees couldn't pass them in the standings here at Camden Yards and also would have clinched a season series win over New York.

It’s a tough one to digest.

But even more important is the status of the Orioles bullpen. Manager Buck Showalter often talks about how the health of his relievers is a top priority, but given how he opted to give Kevin Gausman a second inning Tuesday instead of turn to right-handers Darren O’Day or Tommy Hunter makes you wonder about the status of the bullpen.

O’Day has pitched just one two-inning stint since Aug. 31 and Showalter has shied away from using Hunter on back-to-back days, but if you’re not going to use him 24 hours after an 11-pitch scoreless inning against the heart of the Yankees order, then when?

O’Day’s splits are dramatically skewed this season -- he’s been incredible against right-handers but has struggled against lefties -- so when Alex Rodriguez hits a leadoff double, you can understand why Showalter didn’t turn to O’Day to face lefty Robinson Cano, but Cano is just 1-for-7 with a walk against left-handers Troy Patton and Brian Matusz this season.

For Showalter, who subscribes to the credo of going with the players who have gotten him here, Tuesday’s moves were a little different than what we’re used to seeing.

Needless to say, it makes the final two games against the Yankees critical. Simply put, they can’t waste any more opportunities.  

Speaking of opportunities, Yankees left fielder Alfonso Soriano has hit three homers in five games against the Orioles and has a major league-leading 15 homers since his first game back with the Yankees on July 26. He’s definitely given the Yankees a boost.

Going back to Tuesday’s game, Manny Machado was yelling at home plate umpire Jim Joyce after his third at-bat. He was as demonstrative as I’ve seen him. For a young player, Machado usually keeps his cool.

After the game, Machado said he repeatedly asked Joyce for time out during the at-bat, but wasn’t given it. Once cooler heads prevailed, Machado chalked it up to a loud crowd.

“He didn’t hear me,” Machado said. “It was real loud today. [You] just move on.”

It was a rough day for Machado, who was 0-for-4 at the plate and made a mental lapse in the field toward the end of the Yankees’ four-run eighth inning. With a runner on second on one out, Ichiro Suzuki hit a ball in front of the plate that Matt Wieters grabbed and threw to third. Machado thought he had a force at third and touched the bag instead of tagging the runner before throwing to first for a double play. Both runners were safe.

The mistake didn’t hurt the Orioles because reliever Francisco Rodriguez struck out the next two hitters, but it was one of the few times that Machado’s growing pains were on display for all to see.

All along, Showalter has raved about Machado’s baseball IQ, and how he soaks the game up like a sponge. He’s confident that when Machado makes mental mistakes that all young players make, he won’t make them again and that’s one of the reasons the 21-year-old is a special player.

As solid as Machado has been defensively, I think everyone will allow those rare growing pains.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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