BALTIMORE – As the process of evaluating players has evolved and approaches to team building have changed over the years, the formula for the Baltimore Orioles now remains the same as it was during the 1970s under their famed former manager.
"Earl Weaver likes pitching, defence and three-run homers, right? So we still value all those," general manager Dan Duquette said Wednesday, before his team used a pair of longballs to back seven dominant innings by Dylan Bundy in a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. "We try to get power at every position if we can. Our fans like it. It plays well at our ballpark. And it has worked and works for us, so we try to value power and get players who hit the ball out of the ballpark at every spot in the lineup."
The Orioles certainly have that, and their power provided the difference in a pair of victories over the Blue Jays in the season-opening series for both clubs. Mark Trumbo’s walk off shot in the 11th inning capped Monday’s opener while Adam Jones, with a man on in the third, and Chris Davis in the fourth did the only damage needed against a very good J.A. Happ. A spectacular leaping catch at the wall in centre by Kevin Pillar to end the third prevented Manny Machado from tacking on another solo shot.
That’s their game.
"I guess a bloop and a blast was enough tonight," said Happ.
The central question for the Orioles is whether their starting pitching will hold up behind Kevin Gausman, who was strong in the opener, and Bundy, who allowed a run on four hits with eight strikeouts Wednesday. With shoulder bursitis sidelining ace Chris Tillman, there are legitimate concerns about a rotation that also includes Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley and TBA, which should be tough to watch.
They’re counting on power, an ability to steal hits in the infield and a strong bullpen to be the equalizer.
"It’s still about pitching," said Duquette. "Your bullpen is effective if you get to the point where they can help you win a game. If you’re out of the game, you can have a great bullpen and it doesn’t help you. So you need to have some balance to the club. The simple fact is there aren’t enough good starting pitchers to go around."
The Blue Jays have the starting pitching and the power, too, but it was kept at bay in the first two games as they managed only two extra-base hits, on doubles by Ezequiel Carerra and Justin Smoak. Their only run Wednesday came in the third inning on consecutive singles by Smoak, Kevin Pillar and Devon Travis.
Consecutive singles by Jose Bautista and Kendrys Morales off Zach Britton opened the ninth and, after Troy Tulowitzki was called out on a disputed check swing, Russell Martin walked to load the bases. But Steve Pearce couldn’t burn his former teammates, hitting into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game.
"Off Britton it’s tough to string some hits together," said manager John Gibbons. "We worked him well, threw a walk in there, had a couple of knocks, he’s just got that groundball sitting there waiting. … He didn’t blow a save all last year, I thought maybe this was going to be his first one. I liked the way the guys battled."
The other facets of the Blue Jays’ game have been strong out of the gate, as Happ allowed only three runs on five hits with nine strikeouts over seven innings and Pillar’s latest theft highlighted several gems by Blue Jays defenders. In the fourth, for instance, Troy Tulowitzki made a brilliant pick on a Trumbo liner that came off the bat at 112 mph.
The Machado drive had an exit velocity of 111 mph and was over Pillar’s head before he chased it down, getting winded after his shoulder and ribs slammed into the wall after the catch.
"You make your read, you hit the warning track, you’ve got a choice to make – either go for it or play it off the wall," said Pillar. "That’s just what I do. I try to go make plays."
The Blue Jays got a scare in the sixth when a Trumbo foul tip caught Martin’s throwing hand and it went numb. But after the excruciating pain abated, he remained in the game.
Trumbo caused a different sort of pain Monday when he caught a hanging Jason Grilli slider and roped it over the wall to win the opener. The hard-hitting slugger lingered on the market over the winter despite leading the American League in home runs last year at 47, eventually returning to the Orioles on a $37.5 million, three-year deal.
"We like power," Duquette emphasized. "We also value the defence, right? Pitching, defence and three-run homers. The reason I like power is that they can’t put fielders on the other side of the fence. If they hit one out, there’s no way to take it away."
One thing Duquette didn’t like over the winter was Jose Bautista, confirming on-air to Jeff Blair on Sportsnet 590 The Fan in December that they wouldn’t pursue the slugger because the fans didn’t like him.
"I said it to the agent when he called and asked if we had any interest. I said, don’t go telling people that the Orioles are in on your guy because our fans don’t like him. They’ll hang me in Baltimore," said Duquette. "And then the next time I heard it, it was on a talk show in Toronto.
"I didn’t back off what I said to the agent, but I didn’t expect it to be public knowledge. It was like, don’t do that to me. … We weren’t going to sign him. Our fans wouldn’t allow us to sign him."
Bautista was booed before every at-bat of the series, and had a hit and a walk in the two games but also made a couple of very good defensive plays in the opener. Duquette tried to downplay the comments, pointing out that he doesn’t "like giving bulletin board material. It’s not helpful."
This time it didn’t cost the Orioles, as the Blue Jays, also a team that primarily relies on big swings that change things, didn’t get them.
"The key to the series is they hit three home runs and we didn’t hit any," said Gibbons. "That was the difference-maker. They scored quick like that and we couldn’t. But we’ll be OK."