A few post-game thoughts
Orioles reliever Jim Johnson has increasingly been getting the ball in save situations — picking up his sixth save in his last seven outings in Tuesday’s 7-5 win –although manager Buck Showalter is hesitant to name the setup man his new closer.
Johnson picked up his eighth save of the season and while Kevin Gregg could get another save or two before the season ends, Showalter is a big fan of “competitive integrity” in playing teams that are fighting for a playoff spot. And the guy who gives the Orioles the best chance to win right now is Johnson.
Could he still make a start? Sure. But that depends on the AL Wild Card race and where Boston sits in that final three-game set in Baltimore next week. If the playoff picture has already been decided, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine a scenario where Johnson starts a game that’s made up of a band of relievers. Right now, there’s no definitive plan on what to do with Johnson for next season. And I imagine, as much as the Orioles want to have a specific role in mind, a lot of that depends on what they do in the offseason.
The bullpen needs an overhaul and we’ve already seen this year the dangers in a thin starting pitching pool. If I’m the Orioles, I’m signing at least two Major League-ready starting pitchers.
Pedro Strop continues to impress in his first few weeks as an Oriole, tossing a scoreless eighth inning Tuesday night to extend his stretch to 7 2/3 scoreless innings in eight games with Baltimore. Strop is not a closer candidate- Showalter made that clear — but he is still presenting himself as a legitimate candidate for 2012’s bullpen.
Speaking of making impressions, Robert Andino continues to be a bright spot in a disappointing season with a game-winning three-RBI double Tuesday night. Showalter and Andino’s teammates have raved all season about the utility infielder’s newfound maturity and how Andino is coming into his own. Willie Randolph said in the feature I wrote last week, that Andino’s effort from Day 1 of Spring Training, has truly impressed him and he’s not a guy that gives out a lot of compliments.
“”You can just tell the confidence he is playing with on both sides of the ball,” said Showalter, who watched Andino’s eighth-inning at-bat on the television in the visiting clubhouse.”Sitting back here, I couldn’t imagine many guys I’d rather have in that situation.”
“I don’t think any pitcher enjoys throwing to him,” shortstop J.J. Hardy added of Andino, who collected three hits for the fifth time this season. “He’s up there grinding, he doesn’t give at-bats away, and I like our chances when he’s up there.”
The piece of clutch hitting erased a frustrating fifth inning, in which the Orioles watched a key chance to rally fall apart when catcher Matt Wieters was called for a checked-swing third strike, leading to Vladimir Guerrero’s subsequent caught stealing at second base. An irate Showalter was ejected for arguing the call on Wieters, and the bizarre double-play cleared the bases instead of a potential first-and-second with no outs situation.
For the record, Showalter wasn’t sure what he was ejected for –admitting he was most upset with the 3-1 pitch called a strike on Wieters — but it was likely the called third strike that third base umpire Chris Guccione ruled was a swing, that sent Showalter out of the game.