Orioles reliever Tanner Scott entered Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays with little room for error, called in to relieve starter Andrew Cashner with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth inning with the mission of preventing a rout.
It might have been the biggest challenge Scott has faced in his brief major league career, and it was the first time Orioles manager Buck Showalter placed him in the game with any inherited runners this season, let alone three.
But within an uninspiring defeat was an important confidence-building moment for a hard-throwing 23-year-old lefty who could eventually emerge as the team’s closer of the future.
Scott stranded all three base runners by striking out the side in the sixth, but even more impressive was that he missed bats not with his mid-90s fastball, but with the developing slider that can make him the dominant late-inning pitcher the Orioles believe he can become.
“Because people have to cheat to the fastball, the pitch recognition on the slider is not as good,” Showalter said. “Our player development group has done a great job with him and his slider, and just a lot of things.”
Scott struck out the top three hitters in the Rays batting order – Brad Miller, C.J. Cron and Joey Wendle – all swinging, and he did so by using his slider more than he has in any previous outing this season.
He threw his slider on 10 of his 15 pitches. The pitch produced six swinging strikes and was the strikeout pitch to both Cron and Wendle.
The key was using his slider to play off the fastball. Against Cron, Scott got Cron to swing through a 1-1 slider to get ahead 1-2. Cron then fouled off a 98.5 mph fastball, was ahead on an 89.6 mph slider and then Scott came inside with another slider that Cron swung through for the strikeout.
Scott made easier work of Wendle, getting him to swing through a slider at the knees before burying two more in the dirt that Wendle chased.
Scott induced seven swinging strikes in his 15-pitch outing, numbers that will improve an already impressive 18 percent swinging strike rate. On the season, Scott is now averaging 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings.