The Orioles fielded a lineup Saturday that featured utility outfielder Craig Gentry in the leadoff spot and three guys at the bottom of the batting order who have combined to appear in a total of 90 big league games since the start of last season.
This is what happens when your regular leadoff guy suffers a freak injury and you’re waiting for several other key players to come off the disabled list.
The Orioles have been waiting for help to arrive since Opening Day and they figure to be waiting quite a while to get back to full strength, so the loss of Trey Mancini – for however long – was just another gut punch that begs for a team-wide gut check.
“We have to play this game today,” executive vice president Dan Duquette said. “The cavalry isn’t going to be here to help us. We have to worry about saddling up and riding ourselves.”
He’s right, of course. The Orioles have no choice but to change the subject before this young season gets entirely away from them.
Everyone knew April would be a major challenge even before slugger Mark Trumbo went out with a spring quad injury and 2017 Most Valuable Oriole Jonathan Schoop suffered the dreaded oblique injury last weekend. The schedule was front loaded with all five of last year’s American League playoff teams, and the Orioles weren’t going to have newly signed starting pitcher Alex Cobb for the first two weeks of the season.
These are the kinds of things that try a manager’s soul. Buck Showalter has a history of doing more with less, but not this much less. He also has a history of refusing to look for any sympathy when things go south, so he wouldn’t even cut his team some slack when Mancini sliced up his knee sliding into a wall in foul territory Friday night.
It’s still early in the season, but Showalter made it clear that the Orioles don’t have time to wait for help.
“Yeah, because the game doesn’t stop,” he said. “Everybody’s got problems, regardless of whether they’re less than yours or what have you. People don’t care about that. They don’t want to hear you talk about it, especially our fans. They get it. It is what it is.
“What I’ve found through the years, when one thing returns to you another one sometimes can go away. This is a very demanding sport played every day. You’re one slide into a wall away from something happening. So, yeah, you do have to guard against that.”
Which is why the current 10-game homestand has taken on an importance not usually seen in the middle of April.
What has to make it all so frustrating for Showalter and Duquette is how the wind has shifted since the start of spring training. The Orioles arrived in Florida facing the same rotation problems that dragged them to the bottom of the standings last season. No one was terribly worried about the offense, thinking they wouldn’t be able to score enough runs to keep from falling off the map in the AL East.
So, they added two free-agent starting pitchers and brought back Chris Tillman, and had to figure that would be enough to keep them competitive if they could produce runs at the same level as last year.
The offense got off to a sluggish start and the injuries have already exposed the club’s so-so minor league depth. The batting order Saturday included four hitters with batting averages in the .100s. Manny Machado and Adam Jones were the only regulars in the lineup off to representative starts.
It might be no great surprise that the Orioles managed to get just two hits off Indians starter Mike Clevenger in Saturday’s 4-0 loss, but the team is now 6-15 and Duquette obviously thinks the excuses are wearing thin.
“You can talk about the weather. You can talk about the injuries. You can talk about the competition we’re playing,” he said. “But this is a big league ballclub. We’ve got to go out and do the best we can every night with what we have where we are. That’s what we’re going to do and hopefully we’ll start playing some decent ball. The goal has got to be to get back to .500 and then if you get to back to .500, then you can see your way to some other goals.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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