As difficult as it can be to look for silver linings through so many losses — especially with the familiar theme of offensive ineptitude continuing in a 2-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Saturday night — the Orioles and right-handed starter Yefry Ramírez made significant strides in controlling the running game.
It’s something that’s been lacking this season, as manager Buck Showalter has consistently bemoaned slow times to the plate and the stolen bases that can follow. Against a speedy but aggressive White Sox team, the Orioles knew they would be tested on the base paths.
Ramírez, who allowed three stolen bases over his previous two starts on Aug. 11 against the Boston Red Sox and Aug. 19 at the Cleveland Indians, was one of the Orioles young pitchers who struggled controlling the running game.
But the Orioles were 3-for-3 throwing out potential base stealers Saturday, all three throwouts by catcher Caleb Joseph for a new career high, to keep a tight game close. Two runners were caught stealing with Ramírez on the mound and the other came with Mike Wright Jr. pitching.
“You know going into it that they’re a speedy team and they use that as a part of their game,” Joseph said. “And we’ve concentrated on that a lot lately, and Yefry was really good. He gave me a chance. It pretty much starts and ends with the pitcher. If you give us a chance, we’ve got a better shot to get him than not, and he mixed up his looks, mixed up his throwovers and he gave me a really nice shot on two of the three to get down there.
“If you think about it, that’s an inning’s worth of outs. We shortened the game by an inning. We had three caught stealings and that’s one thing we had kind of gotten away from earlier in the season and we’re getting back to it. But that’s a huge staple in the Oriole defense, that we’re going to take advantage of your aggressiveness on the bases because we have guys who can get the ball to the plate in a good, quick manner and we’ve got guys who can throw out base stealers.”
Ramírez focused on having a faster time to the plate while he was in the bullpen.
“Yes, I've been working on my time to my plate,” Ramírez said through translator Ramón Alarcón. “I remember the start I had against Cleveland that too many runners were stealing bases against me. So I really wanted to improve that and hopefully get better.”
All three caught stealings provided key outs. After Adam Engel reached on a two-out bunt single in the third off Ramírez, Joseph threw him out attempting to steal second.
Tim Anderson opened the sixth inning with a leadoff infield single off Ramírez, but was erased trying to swipe second base. That was a big out, because Yoán Moncada followed with a double, and Yolmer Sánchez doubled to produce the game’s first run.
Joseph threw out Engel again in the eighth inning on a strikeout, throwout double play that ended the inning for Wright.
“It’s so tough when guys come up here,” Showalter said. “We work hard in the minor leagues trying to get their times reasonable. Guys don’t pitch up here at 1.7, 1.8 [seconds]. They don’t look like that, especially starting pitchers. It’s always a matter of when, and you try and do it in the minor leagues, but his athleticism …
“You don’t go from A to Z with it. You can’t take them from 1.7, 1.8 to 1.2 in one work session. It just doesn’t work like that because it’s not really fair to them. You try to be fair to them by doing it before they get here, but sometimes it’s hard to do. That’s something that he’s grasped and gotten better a little by little. I think sometimes you make a mistake, and we can, too, by trying to go too fast.”
The White Sox are an aggressive team. They entered Saturday ranked seventh in the majors with 95 steals, but their 40 times caught stealing was second most in the majors trailing on the Tampa Bay Rays (48).
While Joseph has struggled at the plate — he’s hitting just .213 — he has thrown out 34.5 percent of base stealers (19-for-55), which is his best since his rookie season in 2014, when he threw out 40 percent.