As long as Orioles pitching holds their opponents to 1 run or less, the Orioles offense will win, Usually. Friday night, they did, as the Orioles opened up a weekend series hosting the Nationals, and snapped a 3-game losing streak.
Yes, a win is a win, and the Orioles were in desperate need of one. But all of their ills were not cured in the 2-1 victory. The bats remained generally silent. They scored just two runs. There were two double plays that could have been costly. The O’s were 1-7 with runners in scoring position. Six Orioles were left on. And the team with the most errors in baseball committed 2 more, both by Mark Reynolds, who now has 9 on the year.
But on this night, the Orioles still stood a fighting chance because their ace, Jason Hammel (W, 8-2), was on the mound. The man who came 7 outs from a no-hitter his last time out in Atlanta, was never in jeopardy of duplicating that feat. Michael Morse doubled with one out in the second, and saw to it that no such event would take place this time. But Hammel, the tall righthander who, it is now safe to say, was swiped away in one of the most lopsided trades in all of baseball over the winter, was still the best player in Camden Yards Friday. He rescued his teammates from their own defensive misery, from their offensive ineptitude, and from the losing streak.
The Orioles supported Hammel just enough, too. Reynolds smashed his sixth home run in the second. JJ Hardy doubled in the game-winning run with two outs in the fifth. Hardy also saved a run with a leaping catch of a Jesus Flores liner with 2 on and 2-out in the seventh. Otherwise, Hammel was basically on his own. And he was apparently fine with that. He struck out 10 Nationals, and walked no one. He gave up just 5 hits and 1 unearned run through 8 innings, lowering his ERA to 2.61. There is a lot a starting pitcher cannot control, such as run support. On this night, as long as the Orioles scored two, they were going to be OK. Their stopper was on the hill.
In the ninth, Jim Johnson came on to record save number 21. Wilson Betemit helped, with a nice barehanded pickup and throw on a slow roller by Morse.
The Battle of the Beltways resumes Saturday night at 7:15. Edwin Jackson (3-4) goes for the visiting Nats. Wei-Yin Chen (7-2) is on the mound for the birds.
- Credit to Buck Showalter. With the off day Thursday, he could have skipped one of Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, or Brian Matusz, and pitched Hammel on his normal 5-days rest. Because of Hammel’s bad knee, and because Hammel threw a complete game in Atlanta, Showalter wanted to give Hammel an extra day. And Hammel has rewarded his skipper.
- JJ Hardy came up with that clutch double, driving in the game’s winning run with 2-outs in the 5th. He entered the game, like many of his teammates, slumping, having picked up just 1 hit in his previous 23 ABs. He rarely goes into a defensive slump, though, and Friday, he helped save the game with a great catch in the 7th.
- Situational hitting is just not there right now. Too many double plays, and almost no manufactured runs, means the rest of the pitching staff almost always needs to be Hammelesque.