SEATTLE — Orioles set-up man Pedro Strop, who was supremely effective for most of this season, has struggled with his command for a few weeks, leading to speculation that he's getting worn down by the grind and spotlight of a major league season.
It's definitely been rocky recently, the 27-year-old right-hander said, but no way is he admitting he is tired.
"I don't like to use that word," Strop said. "Obviously, it's not going to be the same from the beginning of the season until now. But I won't say I'm tired. We have a long way to go and this is the best time of the year. This is what we want. So I'm not tired now."
Strop logged 39 2/3 major league innings in 45 games over three seasons prior to this year. This season he has appeared in 65 games, pitching 63 1/3 innings, many of which were in key situations. He's roughly on pace to match last year's workload when he threw 69 2/3 innings in 62 games between the majors and Triple-A.
But there is no question his effectiveness has waned as the 2012 innings have mounted. His ERA per month looks like this: 2.08 in 10 April games; 0.66 in 12 May games; 0.96 in 11 June games; 1.64 in 12 July games; 4.09 ERA in 12 August games; 6.75 in eight September games heading into Wednesday night.
Strop, who is 5-2 with a 2.27 ERA overall this year, has allowed runs in five off his last 10 outings. He has walked seven batters in 5 1/3 innings this month after walking just eight in 22 innings in July and August. On Tuesday, he pitched a scoreless 12th inning, though he allowed a leadoff double and an intentional walk before striking out his final two batters. Strop's performance is a major storyline as the Orioles make their final postseason push.
"Things aren't going the way people are expecting because the first five months everything was good," Strop said. "But now I am having a bump in the road. But I'm just going to keep working hard and come back and do my thing."
He said he believes his problems were mechanical and that he has fixed them. He had two scoreless outings before allowing a walk and two hits Sunday in Oakland, when he had to be pulled in the ninth inning so closer Jim Johnson could nail down the victory.
"You can see in my last [four] outings I'm throwing a lot better than I did," Strop said. "[Sunday], I don't consider that a bad outing. I was throwing well. I walked one batter, but I was throwing the ball down. Yeah, I gave up a couple hits, a bloop from [Josh] Reddick. But I don't consider that one a bad outing. I felt more like me. It just happened. But I am feeling good right now."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter had given Strop three days' rest before Sunday and felt his reliever might have been a little rusty. That's not going to stop him from going to Strop again in a key spot. He did in Tuesday's 12th, and got the scoreless return.
"[Strop has] had some challenges," Showalter said. "Last thing you want to do is think your manager has a real short memory, 'What have you done for me lately?'"
Strop said that attitude has allowed him not to look over his shoulder and to continue to believe he can get big-leaguers out in September.
"It's important because it shows the confidence he has in us," Strop said. "And when you have a manager who puts his confidence in you, that makes it a lot better. You can get through the bad things and go back out and try."
Fun with numbers
Baseball is a game of numbers, and when you play for 5 hours and 44 minutes, there are bound to be some that stand out.
By now you probably already know that the Orioles have won 14 straight extra-inning games, and that three of backup catcher Taylor Teagarden's seven hits this season have given the Orioles the lead in extra innings.
But here are some more out-of-the-ordinary stats from Tuesday night's 4-2, 18-inning win over the Mariners:
Between the teams, 48 players participated in the game (23 Orioles and 25 Mariners).
The Orioles had four of those players man second base — starter Robert Andino and Ryan Flaherty, Steve Tolleson and Omar Quintanilla off the bench.
Incredibly, the Orioles' starting 4-9 hitters went a combined 1-for-37 (including 0-for-7 nights for Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Mark Reynolds). Manny Machado was the only starter in the bottom half of the lineup with a hit, and he was 1-for-8.
A total of 535 pitches were thrown between the teams (290 by the Orioles' 245 by Seattle).
And countless hours of sleep were lost on both costs.
Matusz sent to the emergency room
Following Tuesday's game, Orioles lefty Brian Matusz had to go to a local hospital after having an allergic reaction. Orioles assistant athletic trainer Brian Ebel accompanied Matusz, who was fine by Wednesday and was available to pitch if needed.
"He had to go to the emergency room last night, he had an allergic reaction to something he is allergic to, must have been in the [clubhouse] spread that he didn't know about," Showalter said. "Peanuts or something like that. He's fine."
Designated hitter Jim Thome (neck) participated his first instructional league game in Sarasota, Fla., on Wednesday. He did well, ran the bases and felt fine, Showalter said. He will play again Thursday morning along with left-hander Troy Patton, who will face two batters in the game. If all goes well, they will fly to Boston to join the team Thursday evening. ... Chris Tillman is expected to pitch Sunday afternoon in Boston. Saturday's starter is still listed as TBA. Zach Britton is probably the leading candidate, though Randy Wolf and Jake Arrieta are also being considered. ... Johnson notched his 44th save Tuesday, one shy of the Orioles' single season mark of 45 set by Randy Myers in 1997. ... The Orioles had three pinch hits Tuesday night, the most pinch hits in a game for the O's since June 23, 2009 at Florida. Entering Tuesday's game, the Orioles were 8-for-59 (.136) as pinch hitters, the lowest average in the majors.