Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez pitched his best game of the season, striking out three and giving up only two hits for the win. (Denise Sanders, Baltimore Sun video)
CINCINNATI — It was just about two months ago when the Orioles believed they had a good enough arbitration case against right-hander Brad Brach to take him to a hearing.
Brach went to a hearing and won, earning a $3.05 million salary for his second year of arbitration eligibility. The Orioles had offered $2.525 million. Even though the Orioles lost that case – a rarity for the team – it could turn out to be the best bargain on the roster.
Brach continues to trend upward, with the latest chapter coming Wednesday night, when he took over ninth-inning duties for injured closer Zach Britton and made it look easy in the Orioles' 2-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
Brach needed just nine pitches to close out a perfect ninth, including a three-pitch strikeout of Eugenio Suarez for the second out of the inning. Eight of Brach's nine pitches were strikes.
Brach insists that Orioles manager Buck Showalter hasn't named an interim closer, saying he has been told decisions on who gets the ball in the ninth will be made based on matchups and situations. But as long as he's available, he should be getting those opportunities.
He has been dominant, allowing just one hit over seven innings this season. He has allowed just four base runners overall, opponents are batting a minuscule .048 against him and he has a WHIP of 0.571.
Also, in seven outings this season – each lasting one-inning -- Brach struck out the side twice and had two strikeouts two other times. He's getting strikeouts and continuing the low walk rate that helped make him successful in his All-Star 2016 season. His strikeout-to-walk ratio this season is 3.67 and he has a 45.8 percent strikeout rate.
So now, paying Brach $3.05 million this season doesn't seem that bad, whether it's for him pitching the eighth or the ninth inning, especially given the dollars being spent in free agency for late-inning relievers. Having Brach serve as seamless insurance for Britton increases that value.
It's obviously still early, and Brach hasn't received regular closing opportunities since making 34 saves in 2011 pitching in the Double-A and Triple-A levels of the San Diego Padres system. but those numbers show he's ready to close in Britton's absence.
At this point, Brach has little to lose in this situation. Make no mistake, Britton has no reason to worry. He's one of, if not the best closer in the game despite some early-season shakiness. But Brach has the opportunity to raise his stock by showing he can close out games. He certainly has the arsenal and the makeup.
And while that might mean the Orioles might have to continue to pay up again for Brach's services, they're getting the results, at least until he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season, the same year Britton can test free agency.
The Orioles win as well. Brach had three saves over the previous two seasons when Britton wasn't available. But imagine the weapon Showalter can have moving forward if he can trust both Brach and Britton for the ninth inning on a game-by-game basis.