The Toronto Blue Jays beat the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1, on Saturday, April 15. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)
There's no question that right-hander Alec Asher pitched well enough in his Orioles debut Saturday to earn another start. But several moving parts will likely push him through a revolving door as the Orioles fill their fifth rotation spot until right-hander Chris Tillman returns from the disabled list.
Asher opened eyes against the Toronto Blue Jays, taking advantage of the opportunity by allowing just one run over 6 1/3 innings in the Orioles' 2-1 walk-off loss at Rogers Centre.
"He certainly did his part," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
Asher's reward will probably be a return ticket to Triple-A Norfolk, or at least that's what Showalter indicated when asked if the 25-year-old earned another start.
Because of a day off Monday before their three-game interleague series at the Cincinnati Reds, the Orioles don't need a fifth starter until next Saturday against the Boston Red Sox. And it's unlikely the Orioles would clog a 25-man roster spot with an optionable pitcher who can't be used for a week.
"I don't know what else you've got to do," Showalter said of Asher's start, "but also with three guys down in the bullpen, we've got to make sure we're covered tomorrow. … So there's a lot of wheels turning there to make sure we can put our best foot forward. We're going to check on our health with a few guys tomorrow, but we'll be covered one way or another."
Take into account that Showalter was staying away from three of his top relievers — Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Darren O'Day — on Saturday because they all pitched consecutive nights in the first two games of the series in Toronto. Asher's roster spot could best be used to bring up an extra reliever from Norfolk.
"You don't want to do that, but we are playing Toronto without Alec [on Sunday] and we're going to play three games against Cincinnati — three games without Alec — and potentially the first game against Boston," Showalter said.
If Asher is optioned back to Triple-A, he wouldn't be eligible to return to fill Saturday's spot barring a player being placed on the disabled list. And much like the righty-heavy Blue Jays lineup playing a role in Asher earning Saturday's assignment, plucking a left-hander such as Jayson Aquino to face a Red Sox lineup that features more lefties might be more feasible.
Regardless, it takes nothing away from how well Asher pitched Saturday. He held the Blue Jays scoreless for his first six innings after escaping a jam in the first inning. After Asher issued a two-out walk to Kendrys Morales to put runners at the corners in the first inning, he went on to retire 15 of the next 16 hitters he faced. He allowed just three hits overall.
"For me, first innings are always the hardest, especially when you want to make a good impression," Asher said. "But, you know, you just try not to think too much. Go out and execute your plan and hopefully it works."
As the game progressed, Asher seemed to learn to trust the defense behind him, unafraid to pitch to contact despite also missing bats with a career-high five strikeouts.
"Everything was working pretty well for me," Asher said. "But just concentrated on staying down and getting weak contact and working off of that. … It is just that much more comforting knowing that you have the defense behind."
He relied on his cutter and two-seam sinking fastball along with a well-timed curveball, locating all three pitches with a precision that kept his pitch count low.
"Was that fun?" Showalter said about watching Asher's outing. "Must've felt great for him, too. We were more concerned about the ups. We had the pitch limit at about 85, but the ups, I think he went four-plus [innings] last time out, and I think you look at the duress of the outing, so to speak.
"That works. He's kind of a sum-of-the-parts guy. When he's got all those pitches working, he was kind of like Wade [Miley] [on Friday] night. That was fun to watch. We liked to have capped him, but he didn't let us cap him."
While Asher went into his spot start Saturday guaranteed nothing beyond this one start, he did everything he could to stick while realizing he couldn't control whether he stays in the Orioles rotation. The other members of the current Norfolk rotation — Gabriel Ynoa, Mike Wright, Chris Lee and Aquino — also have minor league options.
"You can't think about it," Asher said. "It's out of your control. The only thing you control is what you do on the field. So, I just went out there and I competed and executed my plan and see where it takes me from there."
Even if it's not the next time the Orioles need a fifth starter, Showalter said Asher's performance definitely earned another start.
"It is [difficult], but it isn't," Showalter said. "It's a long season. But I think guys are mature enough to understand. He did his part and he made a really good impression and I'll make a bet he gets another start sometime this year."