Orioles right-hander Mike Wright had the perfect view of Adam Jones' game-saving throw from center field in the sixth inning of the Orioles' 6-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Friday night at Camden Yards.
Wright was backing up home plate after Melky Cabrera's liner to center when Jones caught it and rifled a throw home that one-hopped into catcher Matt Wieters' mitt in time to beat Jimmy Rollins to the plate. The inning-ending double play preserved a one-run lead.
The young pitcher, who doesn't hide his emotion on the mound, pumped his fist in the air and ran over to Jones as he trotted off the field to give him a high-five.
"I think my reaction showed it pretty well," Wright said. "That was huge. That's something I've been looking for in all of my outings, one play to go like that so I have a good start, and I definitely owe him. That's a big play."
Jones' play preserved a quality start for Wright, whose first season as a regular major league starter continues to show promise.
Wright recorded his best performance of the season on Friday night against a veteran White Sox lineup, his second quality start in four outings this season. He allowed a season-low two runs on five hits over six innings, striking out a season-high six and walking two.
The entire Orioles rotation has just six quality starts through 22 games.
"Today was I think the best he's thrown any time I've caught him," Wieters said. "I think he'll be able to take a lot out of this outing and move forward as what kind of pitcher he can be. It was fun. It was fun back there catching him tonight and really even the runs they scored he made good pitches on. So for 90 pitches or whatever he threw he was focused as much as I've ever seen somebody."
Wright avoided the big inning he's been susceptible to in his past outings, especially during his third time through the batting order, because he kept throwing strikes and allowed his defense to work behind him instead of trying to power by hitters with his fastball.
"You hope they learn from things they're exposed to," Orioles manager Buck Showalter added. "That's the only thing that allows you to keep exposing them to it. … There's only so much experience you can give them before they start getting better from it. It seems like he's pitching a lot better than the numbers. It's just that one inning that's kind of gotten away from him."
After allowing a two-out RBI triple to Avisail Garcia in the second inning, he faced the minimum number of batters until the third time through the White Sox lineup.
With one out in the sixth, Wright allowed the first four hitters in the batting order to reach base, including a four-pitch walk to Adam Eaton. He then allowed back-to-back singles to Rollins and Jose Abreu, the latter hit driving in Eaton, before walking Todd Frazier to load the bases.
"I've got to start out-thinking the hitter the third time through but as far as executing pitches and feeling strong, I feel pretty good," Wright said. "You can sit down and talk about stuff all you want, You can sit down and go over this and that. There's nothing like being out there and being in the game, but when it comes to the third time through the lineup, I think I'm doing a good job letting my defense work behind me and eventually that's going to help."
The defense definitely helped him in that situation. Cabrera jumped on a 1-0 sinker and lined it to center through a heavy mist. Jones caught it on the run and pinpointed a throw home for the bang-bang play that might have been the difference between a quality start for Wright and the continuation of a potentially big inning.
"I've got a bunch of Gold Glovers behind me," Wright said. "Just like with that play with Jonesy. I didn't shy away from contact even though the bases were loaded and it paid off. I was lucky. It was a pretty decently hit ball and we came out on top because we have Gold Glove defenders."
In Wright's previous start on Sunday, he allowed just one run going into the seventh inning in Kansas City before the Royals got to Wright the third time through the lineup, chasing him from the game in a four-run inning. In his first start of the season in Boston, Wright allowed two runs in the fifth the third time through the Red Sox order. In four games, Wright is allowing a .318 (7-for-22) batting average and .400 on-base percentage this season the third time through the order. The seven hits include four extra-base hits (one homer, three doubles).
"I want to give him those opportunities," Showalter said. "There's only one way for him to gain experience to get through it. … Let's be fair — Adam Jones made as good a play as you'll ever see [on Friday], and Matt made a great tag to kind of take away the momentum they kind of had going there — especially in that part of the order. He attacked the strike zone. He didn't sit there."
Wright was the first to say he caught a break with Jones' double play, but said he's much more comfortable on the mound now compared to last year, mainly because he feels like he's executing and mixing his pitches better.
"It's throwing off-speed pitches when I'm behind in the count, breaking balls that are quality," Wright said. "This time last year, I felt like some pitches were getting away from me, and I kept [throwing] bad pitch, bad pitch, bad pitch. Now, I feel like I've settling back in and not throwing many bad pitches in a row."