BRADENTON, FLA. — On a day when their pitching simply allowed too many fly balls to sustain success in the breezy confines of McKechnie Field against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Orioles bats found themselves grounded yet again until late Wednesday.
Manager Buck Showalter wanted to field a lineup that would be challenged by left-handed sinkerball pitcher Jeff Locke. And Locke set them down with relative ease before the Pirates held on for a 6-5 win.
The Orioles scored twice in the ninth to slice a three-run deficit to one before Pirates reliever Rob Scahill closed it out.
In the first inning, Rule 5 draft pick Joey Rickard led off for the Orioles with a single but was erased as the next batter grounded into a double play. The same happened when catcher Caleb Joseph singled to lead off the second and fourth innings.
Locke pitched five innings and recorded six groundouts, half of which were double play balls. His only fly balls were a run-scoring double by Rickard in the third inning, a long line drive by catcher Francisco Pena and a long line drive by shortstop Paul Janish that landed in the left-field bleachers to open the fifth inning.
Miguel Gonzalez, a self-proclaimed fly-ball pitcher who has a career 38.1-percent ground-ball rate. He saw a career-high 40.3 percent of batted balls hit on the ground in 2015, but had trouble keeping the ball out of the air all game.
Considering the swirling winds in Bradenton, that was a problem. He didn't record his first true groundout until the first batter of the third inning, at which time the Pirates had already scored three runs and hit three extra-base hits, including a first-inning home run by Andrew McCutchen.
Gonzalez ended up with four true groundouts, most late in the start, but the damage came mostly through the air. Gregory Polanco homered to right field — into the breeze — to lead off the fourth inning. Gonzalez pitched into the fifth inning, and after he was relieved by Darren O'Day, the submariner saw a high fly ball off the bat of Starling Marte carry just over the fence.
Gonzalez pitched a spring-high 4 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on six hits, one walk and a hit batter to bring his spring ERA to 12.56.
Davis still struggles
First baseman Chris Davis had hoped that his trip to the Orioles' minor league facility at Twin Lakes Park, in which he hit a long home run and walked twice, would help his approach in Grapefruit League action this spring. He asked onto the trip to Bradenton to face the Pirates — the lone projected Opening Day starter on the trip —and didn't get a hit until his hard single up the middle in the ninth inning.
Glove-first, my eye. Janish, whose defense has long been considered far ahead of his offense, went 3-for-3 with a double, a home run and two runs scored to provided nearly half of the Orioles' offense Wednesday. He's batting .324 on the spring.
Opening Day catcher?
Wednesday was another strong day at the plate for Joseph, who got the start at designated hitter, batted cleanup and singled in his first two plate appearances. Joseph is batting .306 this spring, making the prospect of a little time without Matt Wieters (elbow) a bit more tenable.