Before the Orioles opened their weeklong homestand Monday night against the Seattle Mariners, manager Buck Showalter raved about the progress of right-handed reliever Miguel Castro.
Showalter spoke about how Castro had arrived as a hard-thrower — a fast-tracked power arm who struggled to meet expectations in previous stops with the Toronto Blue Jays and Colorado Rockies — but developed into a three-pitch pitcher who had starting-rotation stuff but was too valuable to take out of the bullpen.
Castro’s 1.6 wins above replacement entering Monday, according to Baseball Reference, made him the most valuable reliever on the Orioles’ staff. There’s no question he’s given the club many valuable innings, from midgame multi-inning stints to shorter appearances later in games.
The one thing that’s held Castro back, however, has been his high walk rate. And in the Orioles’ 5-3 loss to the Mariners, that was the bugaboo for Castro again.
After the Orioles rallied for two runs off Mariners starter Felix Hernandez to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth, Castro was unable to record a shutdown inning in the top of the seventh, giving back the two runs that proved decisive.
With the score tied at 3, Castro walked No. 9 hitter Guillermo Heredia on five pitches, as he was unable to locate his sinker. Leadoff man Dee Gordon then dropped a bunt to the right of the mound and beat Castro’s throw to first for a single. The reliever loaded the bases with a five-pitch walk to shortstop Jean Segura.
An errant slider to Mitch Haniger became the wild pitch that allowed the go-ahead run to score, and Haniger’s sacrifice fly gave Seattle a 5-3 lead.
"It's been a challenge for him," Showalter said of Castro. "That's been the last piece, where he comes in and throws strike one. You're hoping at some point he graduates from that. He's got too-good stuff to be picking around in the zone early in the count. He puts himself in bad situations that he shouldn't be in. He has that sometimes. You look at the walk totals; that's why there's a lot more to the picture. When he's good, he's been real good, and when he struggles, it's been with command."
Even after Monday’s 1/3-inning, two-run outing, Castro has a 2.87 ERA. But after walking two batters in the loss, Castro is averaging 5.17 walks per nine innings. Among pitchers with 40 or more innings of work this season, he is the only reliever in the majors to average more than five walks per nine innings.
"His stuff was there," catcher Caleb Joseph said. "It didn’t look like he had a feel for his command. And you’ve got to remember, this guy’s throwing a mid-90s sinker, and it’s a tough pitch to command sometimes, and if you lose the slot on the sinker, the breaking ball becomes a little sweepy. It got out of hand kind of quickly. ... For the most part, he’s done a really nice job of course. He just didn’t have it tonight. The thing with that sinker, you’re a ground ball away from a double play, and that takes the air out of the inning. We just couldn’t get that ground ball tonight."
Orioles pitchers combined to issue 10 walks, but Castro’s struggles Monday wasted another quality Orioles start.
Andrew Cashner’s six-inning, three-run showing was the Orioles’ 36th quality start of the season in 77 games. The Orioles are 16-20 in those games. They are also 4-11 in games Cashner has started, though the free-agent signing has made seven quality starts in his 15 outings.
The Orioles rallied to tie the game at 3 in the sixth against Hernandez. They loaded the bases with no outs in the inning, as Manny Machado opened the frame with a single, Mark Trumbo walked, and Chris Davis was hit by a pitch on his back foot.
Trey Mancini hit a ball into the hole that shortstop Jean Segura barely kept in the infield, making a diving play and throwing to second for a force play. One run scored, and another came across on Jonathan Schoop’s come-backer off Hernandez that Segura charged, barehanded and threw to first in time.
Schoop also plated the Orioles’ first run with a leadoff homer off Hernandez in the sixth, his eighth home run of the season. Cashner fell behind 2-0 in the second, an inning in which he walked three batters and allowed two hits, including a two-out, two-run single by Gordon. Cashner also allowed a solo homer to Denard Span with two outs in the sixth.
Cashner, who walked four batters on the night, was squeezed several times early by home plate umpire Stu Scheurwater, who ejected right-handed reliever Darren O’Day in the ninth after O’Day vehemently argued a balk call. Showalter was ejected soon after.
O'Day had been called for a balk just once previously — April 30, 2017, against the New York Yankees — and on that day, Scheurwater was also behind the plate.
The ejection forced closer Zach Britton into the game in a nonsave situation to record three outs in the ninth.
"Now you’ve got to use [another] guy," O'Day said. "We’ve got a thin bullpen, and you’ve got to use another guy, and it hurts us tomorrow."