These streaking Baltimore Orioles are a team devoid of much major league experience. What little they have is concentrated in a few players, and several of those helped them to an improbable fourth straight victory Tuesday night, 2-1 over the Toronto Blue Jays.
Infielder Jonathan Villar broke a scoreless tie with an RBI triple, then scored on a single by the hot-hitting Trey Mancini in the Orioles' two-run sixth inning to help six scoreless innings from veteran starter Andrew Cashner hold up for his first win of 2019 with what manager Brandon Hyde thought was the best stuff he’s had all year.
“I just thought he came out from the very first inning and was pounding the strike zone,” Hyde said. “The velo was up — on the board there, it was a bunch of 95s [mph]. We hadn't seen that. Really good sliders and changeups, but attacked the hitters, worked ahead in the count, and made pitches. I just thought he was great.”
Before Villar snapped the deadlock, Cashner was nearly replicating the previous night's mastery of starter David Hess, who didn't allow a hit in 6 1/3 innings.
Cashner allowed his first hit in the fourth inning. He quickly erased it with a double play, and didn't have much trouble until the sixth, when the Blue Jays loaded the bases with two outs and got nothing from it, thanks to a flyout by Rowdy Tellez.
“For him to compose himself to make a pitch and get out of the inning after 88 pitches at that point was huge,” Hyde said. “After having a tough first start, to come back and do this today shows his character. He just showed really good stuff today, too. That was great to see.”
With six shutout innings, Cashner's game score (72) equaled his best in an Orioles uniform, matching what he was able to accomplish last April 10 against the Blue Jays. He allowed just four hits, striking out three and walking three.
“I thought I got in some counts where I could put guys away but I didn’t make the pitch,” Cashner said. “Big plays on defense. I still can get better. Need to work on command a little bit but my velocity was a lot better today.”
Villar's involvement on the day demonstrated his importance to the Orioles in several ways. He slid over to shortstop from his traditional spot at second base to give rookie Richie Martin a day off and allow Hanser Alberto to get his first start. Alberto ended up with a pair of hits to reward the move. Villar defended well at shortstop, too, but his value on this day was mostly with his bat.
He doubled in the fourth inning before being picked off at second base when he didn't slide back into the bag and stumbled off the base, but made up for it by tripling down the right-field line in the sixth to drive in Dwight Smith Jr. from first base, providing the game's first breakthrough.
“Villar's got a ton of big hits already,” Hyde said. “He's just taking great at-bats, plays with great energy, he's gotten huge hits for us. What I love, Jonny is a threat from both sides, and I used to see it in Milwaukee, a threat from both sides that can hurt you with power too. He's got the speed game, he's got the power game, and he's putting it together right now. He's just really playing well. He can beat you with his legs, he can beat you with a bunt, with slug, from both sides of the plate. That's not real common, and to be able to play in the middle of the field on defense also, he's just really valuable.”
Mancini singled home Villar in the next at-bat, and a combination of Cashner, Paul Fry and Miguel Castro made to lead stand up to put the Orioles in position to sweep the Blue Jays before returning to Baltimore for Thursday's home opener against the New York Yankees. With four straight wins, the Orioles already matched their longest winning streak of 2018. It’s also the first time the team has won four straight on the road since 2016.
Closer by committee
Tuesday's win was relatively tame by the Orioles' standards in that it didn't require a ninth-inning pitching change the way the previous three did, even if Castro did allow a one-out home run to Rowdy Tellez.
The result was Castro's first save since April 23, 2015, for the Blue Jays against the Orioles, and made him the fourth Orioles pitcher to record a save this season, joining Mike Wright, Fry, and Richard Bleier.
According to STATS, the Orioles are the second team ever to have four pitchers with a save in the team’s first five games since the stat became official in 1969, joining the 1991 San Diego Padres.
“I'm just day-to-day, to be honest with you,” Hyde said. “We had three guys available, and Castro was one of them. So was Fry, and Cashner did an unbelievable job of getting it to those guys and Fry did an amazing job. I felt like Castro was the better matchup in the ninth there. Hopefully those guys are relishing the moment and being able to pitch in big spots. I think the more you're exposed to tough situations, and game-on-the-line, that's how you get better and that's how you gain confidence. I just want guys to get their confidence up. I think that that's happening. I want guys to feel like they can lock down games, and you might see a new one tomorrow. Who knows?”
Outfielder Joey Rickard is on a bit of a power kick for the Orioles. After homering in Sunday's win over the Yankees, Rickard yanked a pair of doubles down the left-field line Tuesday.
Have to hand it to him
First baseman Chris Davis remains hitless through four starts this season, but he was a strong defender for the Orioles on Tuesday, making a diving stop in the third inning and several difficult picks on throws from his fellow infielders.