ARLINGTON, Texas — Yovani Gallardo has been an Oriole barely two months. That's been plenty of time for the right-hander to learn about the infield defense his fellow pitchers rave about — a defense that has recently produced moments manager Buck Showalter insists are worth the price of admission.
"They want that ground ball," Gallardo said. "They're excited. They want to make that diving play, and help the pitchers out. It's always a good feeling. It's one of those things that you have four Gold Glovers out there. Make them put the ball in play, hit the ball on the ground and they're going to make that exciting play for you."
Last week, the Orioles made a series of stunning plays to take away base hits, create outs out of thin air and help them to an 8-3 record.
The Orioles rank second-to-last in the majors with negative-13 defensive runs saved, according to Fangraphs, but almost all of the issues have come in the outfield.Shortstop J.J. Hardy, third baseman Manny Machado, and second baseman Jonathan Schoop already have five defensive runs saved between them.
The week began with several acrobatic saves at first base by Chris Davis, who Schoop said gives the other infielders confidence to make throws they otherwise might not attempt.
"We've given him some work — threw some bad balls," Schoop said. "But he's there. That's why he's there. He's there to pick us up."
And the rest of the Orioles infield is there to pick up their pitchers.
Machado made the SportsCenter Top 10 Saturday night for his diving stop that started an inning-ending double play in the sixth inning.
Sometimes the Orioles' infielders make plays that aren't higlights so much as sound decisions and execution. Such as an unconventional double play in Wednesday's series finale in Boston.
Machado fielded a chopper and tried to tag out Mookie Betts, who was running to third. When Machadomissed the tag, he threw to second base. Betts had fallen down, trying to elude the tag, so instead of turn and throw to first, Schoop threw to a covering Hardy at third base to complete a rare 5-6-4 double play.
Showalter said a day later that he hadn't seen anything like it before, and didn't expect to again.
The following night, the Orioles recorded uncommon putouts in the fifth inning. Hardy, Machado and Schoop caught Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor in a rundown on a ball in the hole. Later in the inning, Schoop fielded a ground ball that caromed off pitcher Chris Tillman's foot. He had no play on the speedy Delino DeShields at first base, but he saw shortstop Elvis Andrus round third base too hard and back-picked him.
Hardy says all of the plays are more instinctual than anything else.
"Schoopy's the other night, back-dooring Elvis, knowing that DeShields was running there and he didn't have a play at first, was pretty impressive," Hardy said. "We know going into the series that these guys are aggressive base runners. They've made a lot of outs on the bases already that they probably shouldn't. Maybe that heightens our awareness a little bit, but they're instinct-type plays."
Hardy sees all of this and knows anything can happen. That's how he ended up at third base covering when Machado fielded a short ground ball with a man on second base Friday. In a play reminiscent of his 2012 fake throw, Machado looked toward first then turned back to hit Hardy, who applied the tag.
Hardy said this one was different because the runner in 2012 had rounded the base. Regardless, Showalter said he was the only player in the game who would think to cover the base in that situation .
"For me, it just kind of happened in slow motion," Hardy said. "I had a feeling Manny was going to do that just because he didn't have a play at first. Manny's smart. It's pretty impressive."
A day later, Showalter brought it up unprompted.
"Are you kidding me?" he said. "I would have liked to be announcing that game. If I was at ESPN, I'd do one of those rips. I'd do the play where Jonathan caught the ricochet and threw to third, I'd do one with J.J. in the rundown, and I'd do that one last night.
"I actually did. I cut it, sent it out to our four minor league managers to show to our infielders and go, 'Where would you be on this play? This is attention to things that you have to be able to do.'"
Reliever Brad Brach was the beneficiary of that play, and admitted that when the ball was hit he had already begun to prepare to face the next batter with first-and-third, one out.
"I think we just get spoiled," Brach said. "We get to see it on a daily basis. When you see people all the time, you don't realize. That's kind of how it is with our infield. You see it all the time and you don't realize how good it is until you watch other games. It's impressive to watch every single night. You sit there and just shake your head."