Orioles infielder Ryan Flaherty reacts as he strikes out swinging… (Brian Blanco / Getty Images )
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Watching the Orioles for the past two weeks has to be especially frustrating for fans because the team’s starting rotation, which had struggled with consistency over the season’s first two months, is now pitching extremely well.
But the Orioles still aren’t winning.
The quality start can sometimes be an overrated statistic, but over the past 11 games, the Orioles have recorded 10 quality starts, including eight straight games following the club's 5-4 loss to Tampa Bay on Monday. The Orioles have won just five of those games.
The Orioles offense has been maddeningly inconsistent, and a lot of fans are calling for an overhaul of the starting lineup.
The bottom third of the batting order has struggled. The 7-8-9 hitters in the Orioles’ starting lineup Monday – David Lough, Ryan Flaherty and Caleb Joseph – are hitting an anemic .185 this season. They were hitless in eight at-bats with four strikeouts Monday night.
The Orioles need to find a way to get Steve Pearce, who is hitting .306, and Delmon Young, who hit his first career pinch-hit homer and is batting .296, in the starting lineup more often.
That’s a challenge because it’s difficult getting Pearce, Young and Nelson Cruz in the lineup at the same time. Cruz, the team’s top run producer, isn’t coming out of the lineup -- and he shouldn't. But Pearce and Young would help lift a struggling Orioles offense.
** I’ve seen that fans are clamoring for the club to recall catcher Steve Clevenger and infielder Steve Lombardozzi.
Clevenger is hitting an eye-popping .404 in 15 games for Triple-A Norfolk, but he wasn’t sent to the minors to work on his hitting. He was sent there because he threw out just three of 20 base runners in the majors this season.
Those numbers have improved in the minors, as he’s thrown out 4 of 15 (27 percent), closer to the major league average for throwing out base runners.
Clevenger has also improved his numbers against left-handed pitching, going 6-for-12 against lefties at Norfolk after struggling against them in the majors. But again, Clevenger will come back up to the Orioles when the team is convinced he can keep base runners honest.
Lombardozzi’s promotion would coincide only with the Orioles sending Jonathan Schoop back to the minors, which isn’t happening. Flaherty is valuable as the team’s backup shortstop, and until the team entrusts someone else in that role – whether it is Schoop or Lombardozzi – Flaherty is here and Lombardozzi will remain in the minors.
** I don’t know why the Orioles were so quick to put Manny Machado back in the No. 2 hole in the batting order.
He began finding his rhythm at the plate in the No. 7 spot, hitting .286 there in seven games compared to .226 in the No. 2 spot. Also, having Machado’s bat low in the order extends the bottom of the Orioles lineup – like a good No. 9 hitter turns over the lineup.
Moving Machado back down would allow the Orioles to utilize Pearce or Young in the No. 2 hole on a regular basis, an experiment that the team tinkered with when Machado hit seventh.
When Matt Wieters, Chris Davis and Machado were all healthy and in the lineup together, it allowed the Orioles to drop J.J. Hardy into the seventh spot, which gave the bottom third of the lineup some juice. And Hardy hit .404 in 13 starts in the No. 7 spot.
Unfortunately for the Orioles, they haven't had all three healthy often, and now Wieters is out for the rest of the season.
Right now, the batting order drops off dramatically after Hardy in the sixth spot. The Orioles have to do something about that.