ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – When the Orioles acquired right-hander Scott Feldman from the Chicago Cubs in early July, the rationale was obvious.
Team management believed Feldman, who pitched for the Texas Rangers in the 2011 postseason, would help stabilize the club's rotation as it pushed for a second consecutive playoff berth.
The Orioles are rapidly falling out of the race, but Feldman has done his part in the last two months.
On Sunday, the 30-year-old right-hander allowed three earned runs in 6 1/3 innings in a 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays – the eighth consecutive start in which he had given up three runs or fewer.
"Scotty's been solid," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Feldman, whom he also managed with the Rangers in 2005 and 2006. "He's very quietly put together another good year."
Feldman didn't start out particularly strong with the Orioles after being acquired, along with catcher Steve Clevenger, for pitchers Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop on July 2. He was 2-3 with a 5.70 ERA in his first six games as an Oriole.
Since Aug. 12, however, he is 3-2 with a 2.08 ERA in his last eight starts.
On Sunday, he allowed a homer on his 10th pitch to the first batter he faced, David DeJesus, before settling down. He didn't allow another score until the sixth, when the Rays scratched out two runs on three singles, a walk and a sacrifice fly. Ultimately, Feldman allowed three runs on six hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings while striking out seven.
"Close game like that, I'd like to keep it at 1-0 there," Feldman said. "Get the guys back in the dugout just down one. Unfortunately, they put together a tough inning on me in the sixth and put together a couple runs."
The Orioles have an interesting decision to make on Feldman, who is a free agent at season's end. Given his relatively young age and the fairly weak market for free-agent starters, Feldman likely will command a multi-year deal. His experience in the postseason and, now, some success in the American League East certainly won't hurt his market value.
Feldman will make one more start for the Orioles this season – Friday against Boston at Camden Yards.
"He's a pro. Tough guy; knows how to pitch, going to keep you in the game," Showalter said. "I like him."
Showalter said Bud Norris, who hasn't started since Sept. 8 due to elbow tightness, likely will get the start Wednesday against the Toronto Blue Jays in Baltimore. Norris pitched 2 1/3 innings of relief, and was charged with the loss, in Friday's 18-inning game versus the Rays.
Showalter said there's an outside chance he could move Jason Hammel into Norris' spot Wednesday. If not, it's possible Hammel – the club's Opening Day starter who is a pending free agent – already has made his last start for the Orioles.
For now, the rotation for the remainder of the regular season will be: Wei-Yin Chen at Tampa Bay on Monday; then Chris Tillman, Norris and Miguel Gonzalez on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, against the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards.
The season finale at home against the Boston Red Sox sets up as Feldman on Friday, Chen on Saturday and Tillman on Sunday, Sept. 29.
Showalter said Tillman tweaked his ankle while covering a base in Boston on Thursday, but took his work day on Sunday and should pitch Tuesday.
Tillman has thrown 194 1/3 innings this season, meaning he needs just 5 2/3 to reach the 200 mark for the first time in his career. The Orioles would like him to reach that milestone, but they don't want him to push much beyond that. The 25-year-old right-hander threw 178 2/3 innings last year between the minors and majors, so he's already exceeded his career high.
If the season finale has no playoff implications, the Orioles could shut down Tillman and use another starter for that game, Showalter said.
Wieters starts again after Friday's marathon
Catcher Matt Wieters started behind the plate on Sunday, getting just one day's rest after catching all 18 innings Friday night. Showalter said resting his catcher for a second day crossed his mind, but only briefly.
Wieters said he never considered asking out of Friday's marathon given the importance of stretch run games and knowing he would likely get Saturday afternoon off.
"Not at this point in the year and knowing how these games are," Wieters said. "I was probably going to get the next day off anyway, so there was probably no harm in airing it out there and trying to get the win."
Wieters said he started becoming more fatigued by about the 13th inning or so, particularly in his hips as he continued to squat.
"You don't really feel any different in the first 13 or 14 innings than you would in a normal game," Wieters said. "Then when your hips start tightening up, the matter of getting out of the crouch is a little bit tougher. It just becomes a matter of the muscles staying loose so you can move."
Since May 2012, Wieters has caught two 18-inning games and one 17-inning one. He said it never gets any easier, but doesn't think much about how it will affect his body while he's in the heat of the game.
"I'd rather win in nine, but I guess you do whatever it takes to get a win," Wieters said. "But I have no problem winning in nine."
Around the horn
Sunday marked the third time since October 2012 that the Orioles have been held to one run or fewer in consecutive games. All three times it has happened against the Rays. … Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is 12-for-57 (.211 average) against Tampa Bay since going 7-for-11 with six extra-base hits against the Rays in the opening series of the season. … Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who was slated to bat fourth, was scratched before Sunday's game with flu-like symptoms. Kelly Johnson replaced him at third base. … Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who appeared to hurt himself while playing the outfield on Saturday, was in the starting lineup Sunday. … Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings left the game in the sixth with tightness in his left hamstring.