Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph's RBI drought lasted three weeks short of an entire calendar year. And even though his solo home run in the top of the second inning in the Orioles' road split-squad game Thursday night came in an exhibition game, Joseph had to be relieved to finally have driven in a run.
Joseph took New York Yankees right-hander Adam Warren deep in the Orioles split squad's 8-1 road loss at Steinbrenner Field, turning on a 1-0 inside fastball and sending it over the left-field fence for his first RBI since last spring training.
Joseph – who went 141 regular-season plate appearances without an RBI in 2016 – last drove in a run on March 25, 2016, which was also a Grapefruit League home run against the Yankees.
"Obviously, it's one of those things where we're all fired up for him and we know the circumstances, though you don't really harbor it," Orioles starter Tyler Wilson said.
Joseph's home run was one of just two hits for the Orioles (3-4-1) on Thursday night in a game that included several minor league players brought in to cover innings with two games in one day. Minor leaguer Aderlin Rodriguez' two-out single in the ninth was the Orioles' only other hit.
Joseph's RBI-less streak last season was historic, marking the first time a player with more than 100 major league at-bats in a regular season failed to finish with an RBI since the statistic became official in 1920.
But Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the Orioles have faith that Joseph, who had strong offensive numbers in the minors and had 11 homers and 49 RBIs in 100 major league games two years ago, will rebound.
"I'll tell you," Showalter said. "The last two or three games, he's swung the bat well. We all know [what he can do]. His track record is pretty good offensively. Last year, he had a lot of challenges. He was out over a month. It's kind of a fresh start for him and I think he knows everybody has confidence in him. He should take confidence in the confidence we have in him that we have a memory of what he's capable of doing. He's a very capable catcher."
Wilson, who played with Joseph when the catcher posted a 22-homer, 97-RBI season with Double-A Bowie in 2013, said Joseph's home run swing Thursday reminded him of a home run he hit off current New York Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard that year.
"I was telling him, that was an awesome swing," Wilson said. "That was like the old Caleb swing. … I was in the stands charting one day, and Syndergaard was starting that day for the Mets. Syndergaard threw a fastball in, inside the chalk line of the batter's box. Caleb pulled it for a homer down the left-field line, exactly like the swing tonight."
Wilson steady despite one mistake
Wilson was conscientious going into Thursday night's split-squad road game against the Yankees, knowing most of the people in the visiting dugout at Steinbrenner Field – staff, coaches and players -- were working the second half of a long day after the team's matinee home game against the Minnesota Twins. So, going into his second Grapefruit League start, he wanted to be efficient on the mound and make fast work of the Yankees.
"I want to throw strikes and I want to keep the game rolling," Wilson said. "For the most part, my M.O. has always been to throw strikes. I'm not afraid to get hit. I'm not afraid to give up the solo homer or the double in the gap because that's the type of pitcher I am. I understand that. I think part of that has been having control and being in the zone early in counts and forcing contact. But obviously … I need to improve the command of not only my secondary pitches but also my fastball, too. That's first and foremost."
Wilson retired nine of the 10 batters he faced in his three innings against the Yankees, the only blemish a solo homer by designated hitter Matt Holliday to lead off the second inning. In two Grapefruit League starts, Wilson has retired 15 of the 16 batters he has faced. Against a formidable lineup, he tossed two perfect innings in the Orioles' spring opener against the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium last week.
"He's a pro," Showalter said of Wilson. "He's going to figure in the mix here. He's always a guy who is going to make you think because he's a reliable guy."
Wilson allowed the home run to Holliday on a 1-0 slider, which has traditionally been one of his best pitches.
"I can't take anything away from him, but that's a pitch that I command pretty well," Wilson said. "I've been working on some other stuff a little more and I've neglected that. Not smart. I think a lot of times we work on the things we need to be improved upon instead of mastering the things that are our strengths, and that got me tonight, and that's a valuable lesson."
Otherwise, Wilson worked efficiently, inducing five groundouts while striking out two.
Gunkel struggles in debut
Right-hander Joe Gunkel allowed three runs in two relief innings in his first Grapefruit League outing of the season.
Gunkel, whose spring debut was delayed because he had an upper respiratory infection, allowed a two-run homer to Yankees first baseman Greg Bird in the fourth inning. Gary Sanchez added an RBI double in the fifth.
Gunkel, who was added to the 40-man roster this past offseason, faced 12 batters and allowed six hits. He was the losing pitcher.