NEW YORK — The Orioles will enjoy their first day off since the All-Star break today, ending a string of 20 games in 20 days.
The O's played .500 ball during that span, going 10-10, and actually picked up 1½ games on the American League East-leading New York Yankees. They're lodged in a three-team tie 1½ games behind the two AL wild-card leaders.
But as shown throughout this stretch, the Orioles still have plenty of holes to fill. Their offense has been erratic and at times anemic. And the starting rotation – while promising at times – often leaves fans scratching their heads.
Case in point yesterday, when left-hander Zach Britton allowed seven runs in 2 2/3 innings for his worst outing of the year. Britton has an ERA of 8.35 in four big league starts this season and is falling into the same hole that led to the demotion of Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz to Triple-A Norfolk.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter didn't sound sure about Britton making his next scheduled start Tuesday at home against the Seattle Mariners. Neither Matusz nor Arrieta seems ready to rejoin the team, but Arrieta, who's 2-1 with a 3.78 ERA, is scheduled to start for the Tides on Thursday night and could slide into Britton's spot if he pitches well.
Right-hander Tommy Hunter is scheduled to start the Friday series opener in Tampa Bay, but he threw 14 pitches in Wednesday's game. It was his scheduled bullpen day, but Showalter said he will have to see how Hunter feels before committing to him for Friday. Even though the bullpen pitched 9 1/3 innings the past two days, Showalter felt confident that today's day off would replenish the relievers, but he also doesn't want to risk overworking them.
Also, the emergence of infielder Omar Quintanilla has made the roster interesting. Robert Andino returned from the disabled list Tuesday, but the hot-hitting Quintanilla started the past two games at second. He has impressed the team with his hitting and ability to do little things – work counts, bunt, run the bases and, of course, play well defensively. He also offers a little more all-around stability than, say, Steve Tolleson.
The club also faces a tough choice Friday because minor league outfielder Nate McLouth can opt out of his contract if the organization doesn't add him to the major league roster by then, a club source confirmed.
McLouth, signed in early June, is hitting .244/.325/,461 with 10 homers and 33 RBIs in 47 games at Triple-A Norfolk and since June 30 is hitting .292 (31-for-106) with eight home runs, 23 runs and 24 RBIs.
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has stockpiled several veteran players, giving them the opportunity to make the major league club through Triple-A.
But several of those players – Dontrelle Willis, Miguel Tejada, Jamie Moyer and J.C Romero – exercised opt-out clauses in their contract before making it to Baltimore. Another one, 34-year-old outfielder Lew Ford, had his contract selected last week and has become a regular contributor. It's uncertain where McLouth fits.
So expect the Orioles' season-long roster shuffle to continue this weekend in Tampa Bay, but by now, we've become used to it, right?