A part of the tense transition the Orioles are experiencing — some players not knowing how long they will be with the team, others trying to find their part in the club’s future — is that there are a lot of moving parts, as manager Buck Showalter explained following the Orioles’ 5-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon.
Those moving parts failed to produce a win in three games at Rogers Centre, with the Orioles swept in a road series of three games or more for the eighth time this season.
The Orioles (28-72) have lost a lot through the season’s first 100 games, but Sunday’s setback was one of the most frustrating after the Orioles blew a three-run lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning.
The questions are many. Is the trade talk affecting right-hander Brad Brach’s performance? Why did Showalter go to rookie left-hander Tanner Scott with the winning run at the plate in the eighth? Was closer Zach Britton, also one of the pending free agents who could be traded in the coming days, available for a four-out save? Why did Showalter pull Andrew Cashner after just 79 pitches in the sixth?
“We’re juggling a lot of balls here,” Showalter said. “You’re juggling trades. You’re juggling development. You’re juggling trying to win games. All of the above. … There’s a lot of different challenges I’m juggling here, OK? So, respect that. There’s a lot of things. [Zach] pitched yesterday and could have pitched the ninth inning today [with a lead].”
Everything backfired for Showalter in the eighth inning Sunday. Randal Grichuk hit a two-run homer off Brach and Yangervis Solarte added a game-winning two-run blast off Scott, and within a four-batter span, a three-run lead turned into a one-run deficit.
Brach, hampered by inconsistency that has led to a 4.97 ERA, entered the game with a 4-1 lead but surrendered a leadoff walk to No. 9 hitter Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Two batters later, he hung a 1-1 slider that Grichuk sent over the left-field wall.
Showalter then turned to Scott, who struck out the side in the seventh Saturday night, with the game on the line with one on and two outs in the eighth, and Solarte tagged a 3-1 elevated 97-mph fastball over the left-field fence to give Toronto the lead.
An All-Star just two seasons ago, Brach’s season has been characterized not by the home-run ball, but by allowing too many baserunners. His 1.74 WHIP is a stretch from his career mark of 1.27. He’s walking too many hitters, and when he leaves a pitch in the zone, hitters are having success attacking.
“I don’t know,” Brach said. “I’ve been looking for answers. Watching video. Trying everything I can. Trying to work on everything and it’s like, anytime I execute a pitch, it seems to find a hole or goes over an infielder’s head. Obviously, when I don’t make pitches right now, it seems to be giving up the big hit or the home run. It is extremely frustrating.”
Brach said he doesn’t believe trade rumors — or the lack of them, in Brach’s case — are affecting him. There’s been little buzz about Brach, and whether that means he’s not traded to a contender or it means a lonely offseason of free agency awaits, it’s not good.
“There really hasn’t been much said,” Brach said. “I need to pitch better if I want to go possibly pitch for someone else. If I want to stay here, I’m not pitching well enough right now. So it’s just one of those things. I have to grind through it and get better. ... Obviously, it’s hard to avoid [thinking about it] right now. But when you are on the mound, it’s all about going out there and executing pitches. Any of the trade stuff is the furthest thing from my mind. So, it is no excuse. There are no excuses out there. Just gotta get the outs.”
Britton threw just 13 pitches in a scoreless eighth inning Saturday, but Showalter said he was only going to pitch Britton in the ninth with a lead. Instead, he turned to Scott in the eighth after he threw 12 pitches in a 1-2-3 seventh Saturday.
“As as good as [Scott] looked yesterday, you’ve got to [be able to] pitch when guys are in pure ambush mode just swinging and colliding with the ball,” Showalter said. “It’s more about what happened to set that situation up. We shouldn’t have to be in that situation.”
The loss spoiled a fine starting effort from Andrew Cashner, who was pulled after 5 2/3 innings and 79 pitches to his disdain.
With runners at the corners, Cashner stared at Showalter as he walked to the mound to remove him with the Orioles leading 2-1, then yelled in frustration while walking off the mound. Showalter said after the game that Cashner was being held to a pitch count of 70-80.
Reliever Paul Fry did his job, needing just one pitch to get out of the inning.
Jonathan Schoop gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead with his second homer of the series, a solo blast off Joe Biagini in the sixth inning. Schoop also hit a game-tying solo homer in the ninth Friday.
The Orioles added two more runs in the eighth off reliever John Axford on Renato Núñez’s two-out RBI double and an error by Gurriel on a grounder by Trey Mancini after Gurriel collided with shortstop Aledmys Díaz while fielding the ball near second base.
Toronto’s only run off Cashner came in the fourth inning on Solarte’s RBI double.
In the sixth, Grichuk hit a one-out double and moved to third on a deep flyout by Justin Smoak. Cashner walked Kendrys Morales, prompting Showalter to jump out of the dugout to pull him.
Fry retired Solarte on one pitch to get out of the inning and retired the first batter he faced in the seventh before Mychal Givens retired the last two of the seventh.