Long after this month's trade frenzy is finished, and likely long into the organizational rebuild the Orioles are about to begin, Tanner Scott will still be here.
More so than almost any other player on their current roster, Scott has the youth and potential — not to mention a fastball that has bumped up past 100 mph this summer — to carve out his role as a cornerstone bullpen piece in Baltimore.
None of that lessens the sting of nights like Friday, when he couldn't close the door in Alex Cobb's seventh inning and turned a tie game at Camden Yards into an eventual 5-4 loss to a similarly struggling Texas Rangers team (41-54).
“You see all the good things that he can potentially can do, and tonight, he struggled,” manager Buck Showalter said.
“There’s some learning curve and pains along the way. … Some nights, he’s been as good as you want to see and you see what he potentially could be. These guys get these opportunities, and they hopefully can take advantage of it. But it’s always going to be a learning experience at 23 years old, coming up here and facing the best hitters in the world.”
With just two games left before the All-Star break, the Orioles (26-69) have lost three straight and 10 of 12 overall. That Friday’s defeat can be chalked up to a learning experience is little consolation.
Scott, who has been touted as a potential closer for the Orioles down the line, entered after Cobb allowed a one-out single in the seventh. The left-handed Scott came on to face the left-handed Joey Gallo, who had homered off Cobb for the game's first run in the fifth inning.
The 23-year-old left-hander got ahead 0-2 with a pair of fastballs on Gallo's hands, but after a slider in the dirt and fastballs off the outer and inner halves of the plate loaded the count, Scott put a slider into the vacant batter's box to walk him.
“He got a count in his favor and just couldn’t execute the last pitch,” Showalter said.
From Caleb Joseph’s vantage point behind the plate, that at-bat was the key to the whole inning.
“What you see, I think, is stuff starts happening really, really quickly,” he said. “With Gallo, you like the matchup. It's left-on-left. You like that. Let's say he puts him away there — there's kind of a momentum shift.”
Instead, with two on, Rangers manager Jeff Banister called on spare outfielder Ryan Rua off the bench, and Rua delivered his first career pinch-hit home run two pitches later, putting the Orioles down 4-1.
Scott rebounded to strike out Shin-Soo Choo after a visit from pitching coach Roger McDowell, but then walked Elvis Andrus on five pitches. Andrus scored on Nomar Mazara’s double that extended the Rangers' lead to 5-1, and the Orioles’ Jhan Mariñez had to get the final out of the seventh inning.
“After that, you have another left-on-left matchup you like with Mazara,” Joseph said. “Things like that can compound quickly, and before you know it, you give up three or four runs.”
For Cobb, it meant another tough loss in a season full of them. He and the Orioles have now lost in five of his eight quality starts, and his 12 losses are tied for the most in the majors.
He has shown signs, off and on, all season that will be a fine pitcher to have around during the remaining three years of his contract. Showalter said his starter looked a little uncomfortable early, but Cobb said he was able to get the job done.
“I think just being able to mix pitches,” Cobb said. “They're a pretty aggressive team. I tried to get ahead early, make them chase pitches that you want them to chase, and hopefully, they put it on the ground and find somebody. Not too many strikeouts, so you need to have the defense working behind you.”
“I think some of his outings haven’t been indicative of how well he pitched when you look at the statistical part of it,” Showalter said. “But tonight, he pitched well.”
Whenever he does, something else seems to hamper the Orioles. This time, it was Scott.
He’ll be called upon in situations like Friday’s for years to come. More will be expected. He has been dominant at times, with an explosive fastball and a slider that became a legitimate out pitch last season helping him breeze through some appearances. But when he doesn't have it, it's apparent quickly.
The Orioles have tried to figure out how to make him more consistent. They were buoyed by the fact that he was far better at home than on the road, and believed he'd improve overall as he grew comfortable with life in the majors.
But Friday marked the second time this homestand that he has struggled in his assigned inning, following a two-run, three-walk, one-inning outing in Monday's second game against the New York Yankees. In between, he worked around two errors and retired six batters on 17 pitches Thursday against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Without Richard Bleier and Darren O'Day, each out for the season, these close and late situations for Scott have become more frequent. If the Orioles trade pending free agents and former All-Stars Zach Britton and Brad Brach, they'll ask even more of him. And they'll hope he's a quick learner to prevent further nights like Friday.
“He’s got electric stuff, and when he can locate and get ahead, everything really follows after that,” Joseph said. “It seems so simple to say, but it’s so tough to pitch behind in this league, and you can have a 100-mph fastball and a really nice slider, but when you’re constantly behind, it’s really tough. Those are major league players on the other side who are paid a lot to do damage when they are ahead in the count.”
The Orioles, for the second straight night, nearly rallied for a rare come-from-behind win. After Adam Jones doubled and came home on Danny Valencia’s sacrifice fly in the fifth inning to open their scoring, Caleb Joseph doubled to center field to bring in three Orioles in the bottom of the seventh.
They loaded the bases again in the eighth inning, but Valencia struck out and Chris Davis weakly popped out to shortstop, leaving an announced 17,348 to watch the Orioles lose, 5-4, for the second straight night.
“It’s been a challenge to get that last hit and get us over the hump,” Showalter said.