The Orioles’ decision to option utility man Ryan Flaherty before Monday’s game was a surprise, especially because of the value Flaherty holds as a left-handed bat who plays all around the diamond.
But the Orioles' current need to carry unconventional long-relief depth made them opt for a 13-man pitching staff at the potential cost of playing with a short bench.
"There's a lot of factors," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "[It was] nothing that Ryan didn't do. It's kind of where we are with the pitching. Want to keep some length. … We're getting ready to face a right-handed team again. [The Rays] are a lot more right-handed than they've been in the past. Chicago's very right-handed, six or seven [right-handers]."
Showalter said not knowing how far Kevin Gausman could go in his season debut also played a role.
"Not sure what Gaus was going, how many innings and pitches," he added. "You want to cover in case he has a problem the first time back. You don't want to send a starter out. There's just a lot of moving parts. We thought that from a club standpoint for a few days it was the best way to cover our needs."
The Orioles don't pinch hit or pinch run often anyway. They mostly use their bench for defensive substitutions.
"It's more important to go with 13 and take the chance on the other side, because we don't do a whole lot of pinch hitting," Showalter said. "It does kind of cramp some things pinch running and doing a couple things later, but we're not able to do a whole lot of that with the way our bench is right now."
Showalter said that he'd shift shortstop J.J. Hardy to second base if starter Jonathan Schoop couldn't play there. Flaherty would have been Schoop's primary backup.
"What I always worry about is putting somebody like Manny [Machado] over there with, not back, but their side to a sliding runner even though the slide rule is a little different now," Showalter said. "J.J.'s been on that side of the diamond it seems like about as much as he's been the other side [with shifting]. He's turned some double plays from there. But it will be a short-term thing.
"The thing that will be tough is if you get a three or four day injury, not DL," Showalter added. "Then we'd probably make a move to counteract it. So we're hoping it's really for nine games if you're counting the off day. But it's tough. There are a lot of different scenarios out there. This is the one that fit best for where we are right now."
Pedro Alvarez had struggled in the season's first three weeks, but there's reason to believe he's starting to break out of his early season funk.
He was the only Orioles player to hit Rays starter Chris Archer hard on Monday night, posting two doubles, including one that missed going over the right-field fence for a home by a few inches.
"I've been feeling pretty good the last couple of days, and I'm not going to say something that's just overnight," Alvarez said. "Nothing's changed since Day One. I'm always trying to take good swings at pitches. I just happened to make contact today."
Alvarez is making a lot of adjustments. He's never been in the American League and he's never been a full-time DH. He's getting accustomed to a whole new group of pitchers and different ballparks in the American League.
Alvarez is seen as a tireless worker. Before games, it's rare that he's not seen looking for the nearest batting cage, a bat in his hand and earbuds in his ears. But he knows he still has a lot of adjustments to make.
"I don't know if difficult's the word, but it's different, obviously," Alvarez said. "There's some guys I haven't seen yet. Obviously, you have to start to learn some of these guys' tendencies. You can watch all the film and video you want, but it's different when you're standing in there, so any opportunity I get to go up there, I'm just trying to take as much information from every pitch I see and I still have a whole lot to experience."
It's still early, but left-handed reliever Brian Matusz has struggled in two appearances since coming off the disabled list on Saturday.
After allowing three of the five hitters he faced Monday to reach base – including walks to both left-handed hitters – Matusz has allowed five of the eight hitters he's faced so far reach base. That includes three walks and two hits.
In both outings, it appeared that Showalter put Matusz into the game hoping for length from him, but he couldn't get out of the inning either time.
On Monday, he issued a leadoff walk to Corey Dickerson, then allowed a two-out single to Steven Souza, Jr. and walked Kevin Kiermaier, leaving the game with the bases loaded. He was charged with one run when Vance Worley hit No. 9 hitter Curt Casali with a pitch.
Asked if Matusz still has to work off some rust, Showalter said, "That would be easy to say, but we thought he had worked that off."
"Some close pitches there," Showalter added. "Just have to trust he's going to get crisper with his command as we go forward."