BALTIMORE -- The Orioles made a minor decision this past week. Mapping out their remainder of the season -- ensuring two more outings for each of their steadfast starters -- the club penciled in Aaron Brooks' scheduled turns in the rotation as bullpen days. It wasn’t that they planned to trudge forward completely without him, but they were keeping their options open.
Friday didn’t necessarily deviate from that plan. Richard Bleier's first career big league start, when he was tagged for two runs in the first inning, served as the precipice of what seemed destined to become a bullpen game. It seemed like it could have, but Brooks, backed by some superb defense, refused to stop getting outs.
The journeyman turned in the crispest start of his 13-game Orioles career in Friday’s 5-3 win over the Mariners at Camden Yards, allowing just one hit and one run across seven innings and 83 pitches.
“That was the best we’ve seen Brooksie all year,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “That was just a fantastic performance, and then we played great defense behind him.”
Brooks' outing came against the backdrop of struggle. The decision to not start him was made after he entered Friday with a 7.39 ERA in his previous seven starts, with opponents hitting .336/.403/.560 against him in that span.
So, Brooks was moved to the bullpen, and Hyde admitted that he didn’t quite know what to expect from Brooks against Seattle. But as play went on, only twice did Hyde even warm up another reliever. Any worry of a bullpen game became eradicated.
“This was just,” Hyde said, trailing off with a laugh. “This was just something we tried. ... We just kind of took a flier.”
Brooks seized the opportunity and made the familiar but recently foreign trek from the bullpen while staked to a 4-2 lead in the third. It allowed him to not just avoid the first inning -- where he'd given up over 30 percent of his earned runs this season -- but it also enabled Brooks to keep a more eager mindset.
“Not knowing when you’re going to go on kind of keeps you on your toes a little bit,” Brooks said. “It kind of helped me ease my mind a little bit. I just have to find that happy medium of being able to do that in the rotation as well.”
Brooks did what he needed to do in order to remain any semblance of a candidate for the Orioles' roster in 2020. He maintained composure, allowed just two baserunners apart from an ultimately benign error and showed what he can provide when pitching at his peak.
“I don't think any time when anybody gets their start pushed back makes them feel good,” Hyde said. “I think he wanted to show us what he could do.”
Feeling the need to prove himself has been the story of Brooks’ 2019. Claimed off waivers from the A’s on July 6, Brooks has shown flashes of stability only to be followed with another aggravating outing.
But he was backed on Friday by teammates from a similarly unique situation. Twice it was Hanser Alberto -- the surprise American League batting title contender who was selected off waivers four times last offseason -- backing up his fellow waiver claim with his defense and a fourth-inning homer.
“The defense did a heck of a job tonight picking me up,” Brooks said. “That helps us pitchers stay out there for longer.”
It’s types of players like Brooks who make up this iteration of the 2019 Orioles -- those who are taking their newfound playing time in stride.
“It’s a bunch of guys that are waiver claimed, Rule 5 [Draft picks], traded-for-international-money-type players,” Hyde said. “Now here’s your chance to prove everybody wrong. Some of our guys have taken advantage of the opportunity, and Brooksie did that tonight.”