I'm not going to sit here and claim I know the motive for all of Buck Showalter's moves, but I think people are searching a little too hard for the reasons that the manager opted to give Nick Markakis his first professional start at first base in yesterday's series finale against the Seattle Mariners. I am confident in saying that it's not because Markakis is injured or the Orioles want to see if he could possibly play first base long term. I also don't think Showalter was sending a message to Luke Scott, Jake Fox or anybody else, per se. My take on it is Showalter simply wanted to shake things up, and try to energize Markakis -- who has seemingly been in a malaise for two months -- and the team, which was coming off a gut-wrenching loss on Tuesday night and looked flat the entire road trip. He mentioned both before and after the game that sometimes you just have to do something for a day to try and change the team's luck and to get players' minds off their struggles and onto something else. It obviously didn't jumpstart Markakis' bat because he took another 0-for-4, but it certainly had the clubhouse buzzing before the game when players started making their way to the lineup card and saw the 3 next to Markakis' name.
By the way, I don't know what I was more surprised about -- that Markakis got the start at first, or that he was still playing there in a one-run game in the ninth inning. Either way, I can't imagine there are too many managers as secure as Showalter who would try something like that. Markakis makes a couple of miscues, Orioles lose their sixth straight game and today's off day would be dominated by talk about how Showalter has lost his mind and cost his team a game. Something tells me Showalter wouldn't have flinched if that was the end result, but it certainly takes some guts – if nothing else – to make a decision like that.
Though the wait for the 2011 big league debut of Brian Matusz probably became a little frustrating for the fans, the Orioles handled the situation with one of their top young starters pretty well. There were some questions as to why the Orioles would have him fly all the way out to the West Coast when he could make his debut at home at some point this weekend. I think the answers to those questions were pretty obvious yesterday. Showalter and pitching coach Mark Connor know that Matusz is still rusty, still building up his arm strength and still working himself into game shape. It would probably have been discouraging for both Matusz and the team if the lefty got knocked around in his first start. There was much less of a chance that would happen against a poor offensive team like Seattle, and in a spacious ballpark like Safeco Field than there would have been this weekend against the home run-happy Blue Jays in Camden Yards, where as we know, the ball flies when the weather gets warmer. Matusz gave the Orioles about as much as they could have expected for his first start. However, there's no question his velocity was down and his stuff was not overly sharp. That's to be expected after his long layoff. I think 10 of his 17 outs were in the air, and several were hit quite well, yet turned into outs. Better to allow those at Safeco Field against the Mariners than at Camden Yards against the Jays.
There was nothing said in the clubhouse following yesterday's game because the Orioles were too busy celebrating their first victory in a while. However, I can't imagine they were too pleased with Mariners catcher Miguel Olivo for the way he charged into catcher Matt Wieters while scoring on Jack Wilson's RBI single in the second inning. Wieters' left leg was blocking the plate initially, but he was in the process of pulling it away after he failed to handle Adam Jones' short-hop throw. It appeared that Olivo had enough of the plate available to avoid contact, but he chose to come in on Wieters anyway, seemingly letting up a little bit when he realized that the O's catcher didn't have the ball. Still, Wieters' left leg was in a very vulnerable position. It wasn't anywhere close to the impact of Scott Cousins barreling into Buster Posey, and ending the San Francisco Giants' star catcher's season. However, it was hard not to think of that after the play at the plate yesterday. Olivo did appear to apologize to Wieters -- who certainly didn't look pleased -- or at least make sure that he was OK.
Second baseman Ryan Adams has started just three of the Orioles' 12 games since his contract was selected from Triple-A Norfolk, and it has become quite clear that Showalter is more comfortable with the more veteran option in Robert Andino. If you read this blog regularly, you know that I don't like predicting or speculating on guys getting sent down to the minor leagues. However, in this case, I think it is pretty evident that Adams will probably be returned to the Tides at some point soon. He's a young guy who needs to be playing regularly so he'd probably be best served doing that in Triple-A if he's not going to be used much in the big leagues. Regular starter Brian Roberts is still several weeks away from returning, so if the Orioles are going to go with Andino, they could call up a veteran, like Nick Green or Brendan Harris, to serve as an extra middle infielder. I do think this time in the big leagues will prove invaluable to Adams, who got an extended opportunity to be around major leaguers, see how they conduct themselves and to learn from Showalter and his coaching staff. Ultimately though, the most important thing for his continued development is to get steady at-bats and to work on his defense in game situations.
Finally, my colleague, Dan Connolly, has been working on some great stuff ahead of Monday's start of the 2011 draft. I'm sure it will be on our site later today, so please check it out.