ARLINGTON, Texas – When manager Buck Showalter took a hard look at the Orioles' schedule in the offseason, he believed his club would be in good shape if it could come out of the just-completed three-city, 10-game road trip and remain competitive.
Showalter knew the first two months of the schedule weren’t fair. The Orioles open a 10-game homestand having lived out of their suitcases in the season’s early going. After 58 games, they’ve played just 23 at Camden Yards and 35 on the road.
“I’ve said it a million times,” Showalter said. “I said it in the offseason, if we could get through the Texas trip and be connected, we’ve got a chance. I thought in Houston and Milwaukee, we caught a little second wind. We’re beat up a little bit. You start looking for signs of it. Sometimes it can take you a couple days when you get back. We need some friendly faces. That always picks everybody up. I think everybody’s looking forward to the support we’ve had.”
The Orioles are 30-28 and in second place in the American League East, 5 1/2 games behind the surging Toronto Blue Jays. The upcoming 10-game homestand is daunting, with series against the Oakland Athletics, the Boston Red Sox and Toronto.
With the club racing sunrise to get to Baltimore, Showalter told his players he didn’t want to see them in the clubhouse before 4 p.m. Friday. A later arrival would still give them the time they need to take batting practice and get their advance work done before opening a three-game series against an Oakland team that has the best record in the AL.
"It's not like you're getting home and taking a good rest,” Showalter said. “We're going to get to bed at 7 or 8 o'clock in the morning and cold jock the game. And I think, more than anything, these are the times you really look forward to having some friendly faces and people pulling for you. We've been the victim of some road crowds like we all have, and our guys have handled it real well, and we've played some good teams. One of the best teams in the National League [Milwaukee] ... and then we go home to some of the best teams in baseball, so no rest for the weary. That's part of it."
It is interesting that Oakland was likely in Baltimore before the Orioles started their game Thursday night in Texas. The Athletics left for Baltimore after playing the New York Yankees on Thursday afternoon.
“We haven’t been able to get into a routine all year,” Showalter said. “It’s probably the most challenging early schedule I’ve ever seen. At the end of the day, we’ll play 81 home and away.”
-- The Orioles might need to make a roster move to add a reliever after the bullpen had to account for seven innings following Chris Tillman’s early exit.
“We're going to let the smoke clear and see what our needs might be, if we have to push up some activation or something," Showalter said.
If the Orioles add a pitcher, it would likely be a right-hander who could throw several innings if left-hander Wei-Yin Chen has an early exit Friday.
The Orioles used five different relievers Thursday. Brad Brach tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings. Showalter probably didn’t want to use left-hander T.J. McFarland, but he was OK with him pitching the eighth.
“We just ran out of bullets, had to use a couple people we were trying to stay away from, but Mac's not really in play tomorrow with a left-handed starter, so we felt OK with stretching him,” Showalter said.
-- Even though both Showalter and Chris Tillman said that Tillman is healthy, there will still be plenty of whispers that he’s injured. He hasn’t been the same pitcher since his shutout in Kansas City, but Tillman said he knows what has gone wrong.
“It’s evident to me, I’m just not executing pitches,” Tillman said. “Thinking back to the last start, I was able to execute when I needed to. I got in some trouble, but I was able to execute. I’m not making good quality pitches right now.”
But now, for the second time in four starts, Tillman has left an outing without getting an out in the second inning.
“It’s always frustrating any time you leave the game early,” he said. “Couple back-to-back bad ones doesn't make it any worse. It’s always frustrating. It’s our job to go deep into games and save the bullpen. Didn’t happen.”