The Orioles have reached the All-Star break, and Caleb Joseph can't believe he's still on the team.
Joseph, who made his major league debut May 7, has emerged as the regular catcher in the lineup since Matt Wieters went on the disabled list in early May. Since the Orioles traded for Nick Hundley on May 24, Joseph has played in 11 more games than the seven-year veteran.
"It's pretty fast-moving," Joseph said. "Before you know it, you're in the big leagues, and then it's the All-Star break, and you're still in the big leagues.
"You're just excited to be in the big leagues at first, and then as it progresses, you become a little more comfortable and accustomed to what your jobs and duties are and try to keep running with it. I didn't envision a lot of this happening, but it's been fun and exciting."
Joseph and the Orioles haven't relinquished first place in the American League East since taking the division lead July 5. And they're in this position despite starting the season without third baseman Manny Machado, losing Wieters to season-ending elbow surgery, and spending significant time without several other key players.
"I'm not surprised at all," Machado said. "We have a great team. Obviously, we'd be better if [Wieters] was in the lineup. That's a big loss for us. But we're a contending team, a playoff team."
Machado also didn't begin the season with the Orioles, but for a different reason. He made his season debut with the club May 1 after completing his rehab from offseason surgery to repair the torn medial patellofemoral ligament in his left knee.
That game — the nightcap of a doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates — remains Machado's personal highlight of the year.
"Oh man, I was waiting for a long time," he said. "Ever since I got the surgery, I just wanted to get back on the field. … Finally, after the seven months of [rehab], that was the best part of the first half."
Pitching key with tough schedule ahead
The Orioles will play 26 consecutive games against teams that began Sunday with a winning record. And manager Buck Showalter said the biggest key to surviving that stretch and remaining in position for a playoff berth will be the success of the team's pitching.
"We're going to have to pitch," Showalter said. "That would allow us to be consistent."
The Orioles entered Sunday ranked 17th in the major leagues — and fifth in the AL — with a 3.84 team ERA. And having a sixth capable starter in right-hander Kevin Gausman bodes well for an improvement in that category in the second half.
"It's one thing to have a lot of guys that people think can do it, [but] it's another thing to have people that have a track record and can do it," Showalter said. "There's a lot of unknowns. I'm looking forward to finding out. It's going to be quite a journey. That's what the rest of the season is."
Machado reflects on first half, looks ahead
Machado knows the difficulty of not being able to play. He missed the first month of the season while recovering from the knee surgery, and he then was suspended five games in late June for throwing his bat down the third-base line June 8 against the Oakland Athletics.
More than a month after the incident, Machado said that his biggest focus for the second half is making sure that he's available to play every day.
"[I need to] just enjoy the game and just take every at-bat by at-bat and pitch by pitch, and not worrying about the outcome of everything," he said.
Around the horn
Designated hitter Nelson Cruz, center fielder Adam Jones and Wieters were presented with their All-Star Game uniforms as part of Sunday's pregame ceremony. … Double-A Bowie outfielder Dariel Alvarez and first baseman Christian Walker are both expected to be promoted to Triple-A Norfolk following the Eastern League All-Star break this week. … Veteran left-hander Randy Wolf exercised the opt-out clause in his minor league deal, according to an industry source. … Right-hander Steve Johnson will have "another start or two" for short-season Single-A Aberdeen before joining the Tides, Showalter said. Johnson, who is recovering after missing two months with a sore throwing shoulder, gave up two runs and two hits in three innings for the IronBirds on Sunday. … Right-hander Suk-min Yoon, who was suffering from a right shoulder impingement, tossed a successful simulated game Sunday. He'll join Norfolk in the near future, Showalter said. … Infielder Alexi Casilla could play again this year for Norfolk, Showalter said. Casilla had surgery July 1 to repair a fractured hamate bone in his right hand. … The Orioles have released right-hander Tim Alderson, according to a source. Alderson, the San Francisco Giants' first-round pick in 2007, was 2-4 with a 6.12 ERA in 28 games for Norfolk this season.
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