I don't know what else I can add to Zach Britton's nine shutout innings last night, but I thought the defining image from that game – even more so than the rookie walking off the mound to a standing ovation after the top of the ninth – was Orioles manager Buck Showalter leaning against the rail of the dugout as the players tackled J.J. Hardy following his game-winning hit. Showalter, almost resembling a proud father, had his arms folded and this huge grin on his face. He admitted later that he just wanted to take in the moment and see his players celebrate. He was also slightly concerned about Hardy getting injured during the celebratory mugging, but it looks like the shortstop emerged unscathed. It was just a cool scene all around.
Speaking of Hardy, it's probably worth mentioning that the Orioles are 7-2 in games that he has started. One of the losses was the second game of the April 9 doubleheader against the Texas Rangers when Hardy was forced out of the game with the oblique injury before the top of the third inning. The Orioles lost that game 13-1, but they were leading 1-0 when Hardy departed. I'm just saying.
When the Orioles had the bases loaded and no outs last night in the bottom of the 12th, Showalter contemplated using pitcher Jeremy Guthrie to pinch-run for Vladimir Guerrero at second base. Guthrie is one of the best athletes on the team so you could do a lot worse for an emergency pinch runner. Instead, Showalter went with Jake Fox, not the speediest of options. However, give Fox some credit. He could have easily gotten doubled up on that diving play by shortstop Luis Rodriguez on Matt Wieters' liner for the first out in the bottom of the 12th. He didn't and then two pitches later, he chugged home to score the winning run. Guthrie joked to Showalter later that he would have been half-way to third base on Wieters' liner.
I'm sure Showalter will happily deal with this dilemma because the Orioles didn't have a lead for any of the three games during this past weekend's series against the Rays, but it will be interesting to see what happens if the visitors have a lead late in the game tonight. I assume closer Kevin Gregg is unavailable as he's pitched in three straight games. Gregg likes the work, but four straight is a little much. Jim Johnson threw two innings yesterday, his second two-inning outing in a span of three days. I'd also assume Showalter would like to stay off him, which would probably leave Michael Gonzalez and Koji Uehara getting the key outs late in the game.
Showalter and President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail are monitoring their bullpen very closely, and mulling several potential moves. It seems to me that they're going day-by-day with it, but one abbreviated outing from a starter could force their hand. If they do make a move, don't be surprised if contractual status figures heavily into it, which could leave Jason Berken in some jeopardy. Berken is struggling of late, but he has also an option remaining, so the Orioles could send him down without exposing him to waivers. The club obviously sees Berken as an effective Major League pitcher and feels he's an important part of the bullpen. But if they need to get a fresh arm up to the majors, and they don't want to risk losing any of their current relievers, like Jeremy Accardo and Clay Rapada, optioning Berken is the path of least resistance. Either way, I don't think the Orioles are going to be able to go very long without a more traditional long man. I know Berken can pitch two or three innings and Accardo probably the same, but it's not an ideal situation to not have a guy down there that is a little more stretched out. Mark Hendrickson and Chris George would both be fits for that role.
While we are not far removed from the topic of workloads, let's not overlook the fact that Wieters has caught 34 innings over the past three days. I know he's young and the weather hasn't gotten truly hot yet, but he's playing the most demanding position in the sport at an extremely high level. It was almost comical watching Rodriguez's steal attempt in the fifth inning last night. Wieters fired a seed down to second, giving Hardy enough time to catch the ball, readjust his pants, wipe his brow and then apply the tag. Rodriguez was out by just about the same margin as Hardy was at the plate on Tuesday night after that ill-advised send by third base coach John Russell in the ninth inning.
The Orioles will obviously have their hands full on this five-game road trip with three games against the red-hot Tampa Bay Rays and then two against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, where it's always tough to win. But the Orioles did about as well as they were going to do in terms of the opposing starter. They miss both David Price and James Shields against the Rays, instead drawing Jeremy Hellickson (3-2, 3.72), Wade Davis (4-2, 3.07), and Andy Sonnanstine (0-0, 2.19). Again, that's no picnic, but it could have been worse. They then miss Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz in Boston and draw Daisuke Matsuzaka (3-3, 4.64) and John Lackey (2-5, 8.01). It appears that they'll get CC Sabathia in one of the two-games against the New York Yankees when they return home next week, but again, it's hard to gripe too much if you are the Orioles.