What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear
There’s something happening here with the Tides and, by extension, the Baltimore Orioles. Saturday night, the Tides used utility infielder Carlos Rojas to perseve a one-run lead in the bottom of the tenth inning at Toledo. Rojas allowec the tying run to reach second with one out but retired the last two Toledo batters to earn a save.
Usually, using a nominal postion player as a pitcher is reserved for desperation times, when there are no other pitchers available, or for mopping up in a blowout loss. The confusing part is that, by all indications, there should have been other pitchers available. The Tides are carrying twelve pitchers, which generally leaves a seven-man bullpen. And the previous day had been a 5-1 Tides win, which normally wouldn’t tax the bullpen. And, in Saturday’s game, the Tides used two relief pitchers — Oscar Villareal for one inning and Miguel Socolovich for three.
Making matters more confusing is that the Tides started a pitcher who had been used exclusively in relief up to this point — Rich Rundles. In the normal five-man rotation, Jason Berken would have been the normal starting pitcher, so starting Rundles would indicate that Berken was injured or that he was being held for a promotion. But Berken started Sunday. And Carlos Rojas, a proven non-hitter, might be more valuable as a pitcher. So what is going on with the Tides’ pitching staff? I asked the Tides’ media relations department for an explanation.
As far as Rundles’ starting is concerned, it was a reaction to Dontrelle Willis. You may remember that the Orioles signed Willis was signed in the offseason, intending to make him a left-handed spot relief pitcher. After a couple of ineffective appearances, Willis went AWOL and refused to return unless the Orioles allowed him to serve as a starting pitcher. The Orioles eventually acquiesced and sent him to extended spring training to get him in condition to serve as a starting pitcher. Willis was scheduled to make the Saturday start, and Jason Berken was preparing to make the Sunday start. On Saturday, however, Willis was incapacitated by the flu. Rather than mess with Berken’s preparations, the Tides decided to use Rich Rundles as a spot starter.
As far as the bullpen is concerned, two Tides — Brad Bergesen and Steve Johnson — are converting starters. Bergesen had pitched 2 2/3 innings two days before; Johnson 3 innings three days before. Neither was available to pitch. The Tides also decided that Zach Phillips and Pat Neshek were unavailable because they had pitched in the two previous games; that seems a little specious to me because Phillips had thrown exactly two pitches in his outing the previous evening. However, the Orioles and Tides agreed that they would not use Neshek and Phillips. That left two pitchers in the bullpen. Oscar Villarreal pitched one inning — requiring 44 pitches to get through the inning, giving up five runs. Miguel Socolovich relieved Villarreal; the Tides came back with a five-run eighth to take 7-6 lead but the tiring Socolovich — who threw 48 pitches in his three innings — gave up the tying run. After the Tides took the lead in the top of the tenth, another pitcher was required — and Carlos Rojas, who was probably the best available choice, came in. And preserved the win, earning a save.