Showalter will earn his money the rest of the way

It's hard to measure exactly what a manager means to a baseball team.

Robin Ventura had exactly as much managerial experience as Jesse "The Body" Ventura when he became the surprise pick to skipper the Chicago White Sox this season and all he's done is take over a team that finished under .500, 16 games out of first place a year ago and have them atop the AL Central more than one-third of the way into the season.

But there's a reason Jim Leyland and Dusty Baker (and Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa, before they retired) are never out of work for long, and why Mike Scioscia and Joe Maddon have the job security of a Supreme Court justice.

And there's a reason why the Baltimore Orioles brought in Buck Showalter in 2010 after first-timers Sam Perlozzo and Dave Trembley couldn't get the team turned around.

Showalter has the resume. He's a two-time American League Manager of the Year who surpassed the 1,000-win milestone earlier this season. He is well-respected and did a nice job in getting the Orioles of 2010 and 2011 to finish strong.

He is paid handsomely to do his job. And he'll have to earn that money the rest of this season to keep this beaten-up, starting pitching-deprived team that occasionally bears a strong resemblance to the Bad News Bears in the field in any sort of playoff contention.

One of the surprise teams in MLB, Baltimore went into the weekend series against the Phillies tied for first place in the five-team race that is the AL East.

But the Orioles have placed 10 different players on the disabled list since March 26, all of whom were either expected to contribute heavily this season or were playing well when they got hurt.

After Nick Markakis joined Nolan Reimold on the DL last week - putting the No. 3-batting right fielder beside the leadoff-hitting left fielder on the shelf - fans half-expected the Orioles to select an outfielder with their top pick in Monday's MLB draft and stick him out there in front of the Green Monster on Tuesday in Boston.

Showalter has had to manufacture lineups featuring the likes of Ryan Flaherty, Steve Tolleson, Bill Hall, rookie Xavier Avery, and now career journeyman Steve Pearce. Second baseman Brian Roberts, of course, has yet to make his season debut. When he returns this week, Showalter will have to manage his playing time and figure out what to do with Robert Andino. (The best news being it should improve a defense that leads the league in errors).

But if making a lineup card has been a challenge, it's nothing compared to what he's facing with a starting rotation that got off to a hot start but has regressed badly of late.

Opening Day starter Jake Arrieta, who looked so good in shutting out the Minnesota Twins on two hits over seven innings on April 6, has exactly one win since April 16. He went into Friday's start having gone 0-5 in his last six, giving up 28 earned runs in 31 2/3 innings.

Tommy Hunter has been so bad he's been twice demoted to the minors. Brian Matusz had been showing encouraging signs before his abysmal performance on Thursday in Boston, and Jason Hammel has one quality start in his last five outings. Taiwanese rookie Wei-Yin Chen has been the team's most consistent starter, but overall the numbers are alarming.

The Orioles' starters have pitched to a 5.52 ERA since May 4 (106 earned runs in 173 innings). In those 31 starts, they have gotten into the seventh inning only nine times; into the eighth just twice.

This makes it tough on the Jim Johnson/Pedro Strop/Luis Ayala-led bullpen that has thus far saved the season. But with Matt Lindstrom and Stu Pomeranz already on the DL, the team can ill-afford to overwork and put at risk their remaining relievers.

Maybe Chris Davis could throw a few more innings?

Those are the issues Showalter must deal with. If the strain is wearing on him, it isn't showing. He looks the same after a big win as he does after a rough loss.

"I try not to get too high or too low," he told reporters after Tuesday's particularly uplifting, extra-innings win in Boston.

His demeanor and his experience will have to serve the team well over the next 100 games or so if the Orioles are to play meaningful games in September for the first time since 1997.

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