Despite two errors Wednesday, Orioles have best defense in the majors

Nick Markakis robs Mike trout of a hit with a leaping back-handed catch in deep right field in the ninth inning.
Nick Markakis robs Mike trout of a hit with a leaping back-handed catch in deep right field in the ninth inning.(Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun)

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said there is a simple key to competing with the slugging teams of the American League, clubs that seemingly can score at will: Play excellent defense.

"That sucker [the ball] stays in the park, you better catch it," Showalter said.


The Orioles have been catching "that sucker" better than any other team in the big leagues in 2013. They entered Wednesday's play with the majors' highest fielding percentage (.992).

That season trend turned downward in the Orioles' 8-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday afternoon; it was just the fifth time they have made two errors in a game this season (they are 2-3 in those contests).

Yet despite J.J. Hardy's team-leading sixth error and Ryan Flaherty's second of the season Wednesday, the Orioles have still committed just 22 this season, fewest in the majors.

For comparison's sake, Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez and Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman lead the majors with 11 errors each — so combined they've made as many miscues as the entire Orioles team.

"We have been playing great defense," Orioles third baseman Manny Machado said. "We've been getting the outs, and it definitely helps when our pitchers have been pitching well, like lately. That definitely keeps us in the groove, keeps us going and in a rhythm."

Tuesday night may have been the best of the best for the Orioles' defenders. Showalter estimated that between his club and the Angels roughly 10 "above-average" major league plays were made, including Peter Bourjos' tremendous leaping grab of a sure homer in center and Nick Markakis' two sprinting catches in the right field corner.

Maybe a dropoff Wednesday was inevitable after Tuesday's clinic.

"I don't think it can get better than that. I think that was the best performance we've had all year," said Machado, who set Tuesday's tone with a diving snag of a grounder on the first play of the game.


With five starters that have won Gold Gloves — outfielders Markakis, Adam Jones and Nate McLouth, Hardy and catcher Matt Wieters — Showalter said he thought the club's defense would be a strength. But there were some concerns coming into the spring, like the health of Hardy's right arm, Chris Davis' transition to first base full-time and Machado's first full season in the majors.

"We thought it had a chance to be a good defensive team," Showalter said. "We thought it had a chance and so far it lived up to what we thought it would be."

Davis said what has impressed him the most has not been the flashy plays — which someone on the club seemingly makes every night — but the steadiness on routine plays. Davis was part of a 2011 Texas Rangers team that had Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler in the infield. And Davis thinks this Orioles' infield play this year makes them better.

"There were times [in Texas] when I was just like, 'What?' And we have that same awe factor," Davis said. "But with us it's not just the awe factor, it's the consistency. It's the ball up the middle, with Mr. Vanilla, J.J. Hardy, going to his left and getting everything."

Davis turning heads with defense, too

Davis has been making national headlines this season with his bat — he hit his major league leading 21st homer on Wednesday afternoon as well as his 100th career double while posting his 23rd multi-hit game of the season — but his youngest teammate thinks Davis needs to be lauded for the other side of his game.


"CD has been playing a hell of a first base," said Machado. "He has been playing a Gold Glove first base."

Davis came over from Texas in 2011 with the reputation of being a good defensive first baseman, but he made four errors in 38 starts at the position last year, and he was moved to the outfield and designated hitter.

"Back then we had the best first baseman of all time defensively just hidden under a rock, running around the outfield last year just to showcase his athleticism," Davis deadpanned.

This year, Davis has started all but one of the Orioles' 66 games at first base, and he's made just two errors.

"I feel like I've always been a good defender," Davis said. "Last year, I was kind of in a funk. Hadn't played first [regularly] in a couple of years and tried to play first like a third baseman. Those things happen, but I feel good. My job is to catch the ball and these guys make it easy."

Injury updates

Showalter said right-hander and top prospect Dylan Bundy's progression in his return from stiffness in his right forearm and elbow was "so far, so good." He started throwing again Monday.

Second baseman Alexi Casilla continued to improve from the right index finger injury he suffered Sunday at Tampa. He couldn't put pressure on the ball to throw Tuesday, but he tried again before Wednesday's game.

"Every day, it feels better," Casilla said.

Flaherty started at second base against right-handed Angels starter Jerome Williams.

Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen (oblique) is scheduled to throw off a half-mound Thursday in Sarasota, Fla., and from a off a full mound Saturday. If all goes well, he could join the team to continue his rehabilitation.

Second baseman Brian Roberts (hamstring) took batting practice with the Orioles on Wednesday.

Infielder Wilson Betemit (right knee sprain) started taking ground balls Tuesday in Sarasota.

Around the horn

Angels catcher Hank Conger's third-inning solo home run Wednesday was the 69th homer to reach Eutaw Street, the 41st by an opposition and the second by an Angel (Lee Stevens in 1992). … Right-hander Jason Hammel fell short in attempting to win his 50th career game. … McLouth's caught stealing in the third inning snapped a streak of 19 successful stolen base attempts. It was the third-longest streak of any Oriole and the longest active streak in the majors. … Machado's first-inning double was his major league-leading 28th of the season. He also extended his hit streak to 10 games. … The series win against the Angels was the Orioles' major-league high 14th of the season. The Orioles have yet to sweep a series this season … Triple-A Norfolk first baseman Travis Ishikawa, who is batting .316 with seven homers in 49 games and was named the organization's hitter of the month, could opt out of his minor league contract on Saturday if he believes he can get a big league job. The 29-year-old has spent parts of five seasons in the majors and is blocked by Davis at first base. … Three Orioles fans — Melissa Garcia, Rob Jones and Jessie Lopez — are finalists to represent the team at the All-Star Game next month as part of the PEOPLE Magazine Tribute for Heroes program. For more on their stories, visit http://www.TributeForHeroes.com.



Baltimore Sun reporter Daniel Gallen contributed to this article.