OAKLAND — — Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he didn't go old school by design. It was purely by necessity and circumstance that four of his young, inexperienced starters have ended up in the bullpen in September.
"That's the way it used to be done," Showalter said. "You used to come up as a reliever, you build up all your innings as a starter in the minor leagues and then you came up. Ask Jim Palmer and those guys, you started out that way. You'd give them a little and see how much they could take."
Three members of the Orioles' Opening Day rotation are now currently in the bullpen: Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter. Rookie Steve Johnson, a starter for most of his pro career, also is pitching primarily in relief.
"I'm learning. I'm not fully comfortable but I'm comfortable enough to get the job done," said Johnson, who has a 1.35 ERA in seven relief outings, including three scoreless Saturday. "I've been starting my whole life, so I've converted OK so far, but I've got a lot of work to do."
Arrieta has had just two relief appearances in the majors, but struck out five in two innings in his last stint Friday. Hunter has made four straight scoreless relief appearances, including one inning Sunday.
And Matusz has arguably been the best of the group. In 11 relief appearances, Matusz has a 1.93 ERA and allowed just three hits and a walk while striking out 14 in 9 1/3 innings. He has stranded all nine of his inherited runners and, on Sunday, threw two perfect innings to earn his first career relief win.
"Personally, it feels great to go out there and have success and most of all help this team win and be a part of it," said Matusz, who was 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA in 16 starts this year. "So far so good. Hopefully, I can keep this going."
Hunter, Matusz and Arrieta all pitched their way out of the rotation this season, but now are key contributors in the bullpen. And it doesn't surprise Showalter.
"What's the opposite side of that? Not being in the big leagues," Showalter said. "They don't want to fail at anything at this stage in their careers. If they had a track record of successful starting for a long period of time, they would probably look at it a little differently. But [both spots] have major league job next to them. More importantly, that's what the club needs them to do right now.
Machado's road tripping
Manny Machado can't explain the disparity; it's not as if he doesn't love playing at Camden Yards. But so far in the 20-year-old rookie's brief big league career, he has hit much better on the road.
"I don't think there is a reason for it. Just a stat," Machado said. "I guess I feel better on the road or see the ball better, I don't know what it may be. I just try to hit wherever I can."
In 20 games at home, Machado has hit .213 in 75 at-bats with seven extra-base hits and 11 RBIs; in 15 road games, he has hit .339 with six extra-base hits and five RBIs in 56 at-bats. He had a key RBI double Sunday.
"I don't put extra pressure on myself at home," he said. "I like playing at home; it's always a great feeling playing in front of your fans. It's a crazy stat, but it is true. In Texas and Detroit, I hit pretty well. I don't know. I've felt pretty comfortable at the plate [recently] and I'm just going to keep playing hard and do what I can do."
Showalter said that lefty Troy Patton (ankle) threw to four batters — including two lefties — in one inning in the organization's first instructional league game Sunday in Sarasota, Fla. He will pitch again Tuesday and Wednesday or in an elongated outing Tuesday. It's still possible he could join the club in Boston for Friday's game, Showalter said.
Designated hitter Jim Thome (herniated disk in neck) will participate in simulated games Monday and Tuesday and then play in an instructional league game Wednesday in Sarasota.
Jason Hammel has played catch but has not thrown from a mound as he attempts to battle back from right knee discomfort that forced him from his start Sept. 11. He had surgery on the same knee in July and so the Orioles are being cautious with him.
"He is still in the, 'Get his knee back under him' stage," Showalter said. "We have a lot of experience with this knee of his, and he'll let us know [when he's ready]."
Showalter waited until Sunday to announce that Wei-Yin Chen will be starting on four days' rest Tuesday in Seattle. The manager, who has been monitoring the workload of both Chen and fellow rookie Miguel Gonzalez for much of the second half, said Chen had a strong work day and was ready to pitch.
Chen will be sandwiched in between Monday's starter, Chris Tillman, and Wednesday's starter, Joe Saunders.
Gonzalez, however, will be skipped for the Mariners series, but is expected to make a start in Boston. The 28-year-old Gonzalez, who last pitched Wednesday, has thrown a combined 130 1/3 innings for the Orioles and Triple-A Norfolk this year — and also logged about 40 innings in winter ball.
"He is the one guy that's the biggest that we want to be cautious with, but we're still going to pitch him," Showalter said. "There's a lot of things we don't talk about and broadcast in fairness to Miguel. You ask the guy to be honest with you and when he is, take it to heart."
Around the horn
The Orioles are 40-32 on the road this year, their most road victories in a season since winning 40 in 2004. … The Orioles now have five players with at last 20 home runs: Matt Wieters, who hit his 20th and 21st on Sunday, J.J. Hardy (21), Mark Reynolds (21), Chris Davis (26) and Adam Jones (29). … Wieters' next homer will tie his career high of 22. … Prior to the game, several players and Showalter participated in a meet and greet with Calvin Ripken Trevino, a 14-year-old Orioles fan from the Fresno area who has Von Hippel Lindau syndrome, a disease in which tumors develop along the central nervous system.