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AL East Beat: April 5th

Baltimore Orioles
There are few better ways to measure where an organization is at than to face the best team in the baseball.

With that in mind, the Orioles found out they clearly have some catching up to do to be an elite team after getting swept by the defending World Series champion Astros in a three-game series that ended Wednesday at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

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It was a small sample size, to be sure, yet the Orioles were outscored 19-9. They fell to 1-5, losing five games in a row since Adam Jones walked off the Minnesota Twins with a home in the 11th inning of the opener last Thursday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The most discouraging part of the series was the pitching staff’s inability to put a foot down in key situations.

Chris Tillman set a bad tone in the first game as he allowed four runs in four innings while taking the loss in his first start of the season following a 2017 in which he was 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA in 24 games. Tillman allowed seven hits and four walks, did not strike out any the 23 hitters he faced and threw just 45 of 84 pitches for strikes.

“The off-speed stuff was good, but the velocity stuff, when I hit on it, I got the right result and when I missed, it got hit hard,” Tillman told reporters.

The Orioles bullpen had a meltdown in the series’ middle game, a pair of rookies allowing five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning as the Astros broke a 5-5 tie. Pedro Araujo was charged with four runs in 2/3 of an inning and Nelson Cortes Jr. allowed the other run.

It showed how quickly the talent drops off in the bullpen after the late-inning trio of Brad Brach, Darren O’Day and Mychal Givens.

“We just couldn’t get that inning pitched,” manager Buck Showalter said. “That would have set up the rest of the game if we would have got that inning pitched.”

The Orioles have been swept in three straight series at Houston and last won there on June 4, 2014. The Orioles are also just 1-11 in their last 12 games overall against the Astros and 2-14 in the past 16 games.

The teams don’t meet again until a three-game series to end the regular season from Sept. 28-30 at OPACY.

Boston Red Sox

David Price will start the home opener at Fenway Park on Thursday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The left-hander heard plenty of boos from the hometown fans last season when, in the second year of his seven-year, $217-million contract, Price was limited to 16 games and 11 starts because of an elbow injury. He was 6-3 with a 3.38 ERA, good numbers for most pitchers, but not what is expected from a pitcher making $31 million a year.

Chances are, though, Price will get cheered when he takes the mound this time. He had a strong 2018 debut in beating the Rays at St. Petersburg last Friday, pitching seven scoreless innings and allowing four hits with five strikeouts and no walks.

“Whatever happened here in the past, I can’t talk about it,” first-year manager Alex Cora told reporters. “We just have to concentrate on the future. He has been great. He is one of the leaders on this team. I’m very happy with him.”

Cora is happy with the entire rotation, which played a big role in the Red Sox going 5-1 in their season-opening road trip to Tampa Bay and Miami. The starters had a 2.21 ERA in the six games, giving up just 14 runs in 57 innings as the Red Sox took three of four from the Rays and swept a two-game series from the Marlins.

New York Yankees

The Yankees might consider amending the adage about never having enough to pitching to never having enough outfielders.

The Yankees entered spring training with seemingly too many outfielders. Veteran Jacoby Ellsbury was relegated to fifth outfielder status despite having three years and nearly $68.5 million left on his seven-year, $153-million contract following the offseason acquisition of reigning National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins.

The plan was for Stanton and last year’s AL Rookie of the Year and MVP runnerup Aaron Judge to split time between right field and designated hitter while veteran Brett Gardner manned left field and Aaron Hicks returned to play center after beating out Ellsbury for that job last year.

However, Ellsbury began the season on the disabled list with a right oblique strain and a hip injury has delayed his return. Hicks strained his right intercostal muscle in the opening day loss last Thursday against the Blue Jays at Toronto, forcing him to the DL.

Clint Frazier would have been the logical outfielder to recall from Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after making his major league debut last season and playing in 39 games. However, Frazier sustained a concussion in his second Grapefruit League during spring training and has not yet been cleared to play.

The Yankees instead called up Billy McKinney from their top farm club. He made his major league debut last Friday night then sustained a strained AC joint in his left shoulder on Saturday in a game against the Blue Jays, an injury that landed him on the disabled list.

Thus, the Yankees are left with Stanton, Judge and Gardner with first baseman/outfielder Tyler Austin serving as the lone reserve.

The Yankees made a pair of depth moves in recent days by claiming Trayce Thompson off waivers form the Los Angeles Dodgers and acquiring Cody Asche from the Kansas City Royals in a minor league trade. Both veterans were assigned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Hicks could be ready to return next Monday, the first day he is eligible to be activated.

“He’s such an important player,” manager Aaron Boone said. “If you’re going to be as good a team as we hope to be, you’ve got to be able to withstand some blows here and there.”

Tampa Bay Rays

It is too early to draw any definitive conclusions about the Rays’ grand experiment of going with a four-man starting rotation and using relievers to cover every fifth game. However, they are off to a 1-5 start, having lost five games since rallying from a four-run deficit to the beat the Red Sox on opening day last Thursday.

Compounding matters for the Rays is that they are down to three starters and forced to cover two games with the bullpen each turn through the rotation following an elbow injury to right-hander Nathan Eovaldi. He was placed on the disabled list on the eve of the opener and underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove what were described by the team as “loose bodies.”

Though Eovaldi is expected to return at some point this season, it represented another significant blow to the Rays’ starting pitching depth. Prospects Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon both underwent season-ending Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery during spring training.

Right-handers Chris Archer and Jake Faria and left-hander Blake Snell — the Rays’ full-fledged starters — have combined for a 5.25 ERA in five games. The rest of the staff’s ERA is 3.86.

Despite the rocky start to the season, the Rays say they are fully committed to their plan.

“I think we would all agree that it’s challenging for young pitchers to come and expect the seven innings, 105, 110 pitches, out of every start for them,” manager Kevin Cash said. “So, if we shorten the workload and if we’ve got an abundance of those guys that are capable of doing that, in theory we believe, I believe, that we can get more out of those guys.”

Toronto Blue Jays

Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki will miss a significant chunk of yet another season after undergoing surgery to have bone spurs from both ankles Monday.

Tulowitzki’ 2017 season ended July 28 when he sustained ligament damage in his right ankle when he was stepped on by Los Angeles Angels first baseman C.J. Cron while trying to beat out an infield hit. The injury required surgery.

The Blue Jays were hopeful Tulowitzki might be able to be on the opening day roster this year. Instead, he was placed on the 60-day disabled list to begin the season and will not return until at least the end of May.

Early in spring training, Tulowitzki said the spur on his right ankle was “a minor irritant.” However, the situation got worse.

“We felt we were making some progress then the other foot started bothering him,” general manager Ross Atkins said.

This will mark the sixth consecutive season that the 33-year-old Tulowitzki will miss at least 30 games. However, the Blue Jays added shortstop depth in the offseason by trading for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Aledmys Diaz and San Diego Padres’ Yangervis Solarte while also claiming Gift Ngoepe off waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Diaz has started five of the first seven games, hitting .313 with two home runs, though he sat out Wednesday night’s loss to the Chicago White Sox with back spasms. The other two starts have gone to the slick-fielding Ngoepe.

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John Perrotto

John Perrotto has been a professional sports writer since 1982 and has covered a multitude of sports, including MLB, NFL and college football and basketball. He has been a member of the Baseball Writers' Association since 1988, a Hall of Fame voter since 1997 and has covered 21 World Series and two Super Bowls. He is a graduate of Geneva College, the birthplace of college basketball, and lives in Beaver Falls, Pa., the hometown of Joe Willie Namath. He also writes The Perrotto Report (theperrottoreport.com), newsletters that concentrate on Major League Baseball and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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