SARASOTA, FLA. — It was never a secret that this year's Orioles lineup would be vulnerable to the strikeout, but Pittsburgh Pirates starter Juan Nicasio showed just how vulnerable it could be Wednesday.
Nicasio struck out 10 batters in just four innings during an impressive display of mid-spring command that victimized every starter in the Orioles batting order except outfielder Hyun Soo Kim. The Pirates took advantage of that dominating performance to take an early three-run lead, but the Orioles stormed back to score a 9-3 victory before a sellout crowd of 7,842 at Ed Smith Stadium.
Orioles starter Kevin Gausman also pitched well for four innings, but he hung a curveball to Pirates star Andrew McCutchen that is expected to land soon. That mammoth two-run homer ended a string of five scoreless innings by Gausman through his first two exhibition starts, but he was only second-guessing himself because it was a two-run shot instead of a bases-empty homer.
"I'm more mad about walking [Francisco] Cervelli than giving up the home run," Gausman said. "Andrew McCutchen is going to get his hits. He's going to get his home runs. But if you can minimize solo home runs, it's a completely different story than a two-run home run."
The Orioles finally broke through in the fifth inning against reliever Jared Hughes, and wiped away the three-run deficit in short order. Kim led off with a lined single off the glove of shortstop Jordy Mercer and J.J. Hardy pulled a sharp grounder through the left side of the infield before Jonathan Schoop hit a low line drive into the party area behind left field to tie the game.
Hardy would give the Orioles the lead in the sixth with a long ground-rule double to center that scored Adam Jones and they would not look back. Christian Walker and Rule 5 draftee Joey Rickard also homered for the Orioles.
Walker's big numbers: Walker continues to show why the Orioles need to find him a path to the major leagues. He slammed a three-run home run in the seventh inning to break the game open, pushing him up the American League ranks in RBIs and putting him among the leaders in slugging percentage.
As of the end of Wednesday's game, he tied for third in the majors with 11 RBIs this spring. His slugging percentage rose to .815.
Alvarez moves up: Slugger Pedro Alvarez continues to move up in the lineup, finding himself in the No. 2 slot in the lineup for Wednesday's game. Manager Buck Showalter said before the game that there wasn't much to read into that, other than the fact that the Orioles want to get Alvarez as many at-bats as possible to compensate for his late start in spring training.