Orioles combine to blank Rays for first shutout
Gonzalez aided by small ball, stellar D; Britton provides strong relief
BALTIMORE -- With a tough road trip looming, including stops in Boston and Toronto, the Orioles took care of another divisional opponent on Wednesday afternoon at Camden Yards to ensure their first winning homestand this season.
Baltimore used a pair of dribblers, a fantastic diving catch for a double play and some stout relief pitching to top the Rays, 3-0, and record the team's first shutout. The win put the O's at 3-2 on the five-game homestand and moved them back to .500 (7-7) after a rough opening week.
"It's good momentum we have as a club," Adam Jones, who suited up at designated hitter Wednesday despite being sick Tuesday, said of the rain-shortened series win.
"The starters are going out there and setting the tone," said Jones. "It's not about the hitters, it's about the starting pitchers setting the tone, and we follow suit. In the last two games, the starters and then our bullpen comes in and shuts them down."
Lefty Zach Britton, who turned in a season-high three innings after starter Miguel Gonzalez, ran his scoreless streak to 11 1/3 innings in an impressive display.
"It was huge," closer Tommy Hunter, who picked up his fourth save, said of Britton's outing. "It's fun to see when you see guys who have a game plan and have an idea what they want to do and then they actually do it. It's a lot of conviction he has right now. He's throwing the ball with a lot of confidence, and I hope it continues."
Britton, who retired the side in order in the sixth, pitched out of a bases-load jam in the following inning. After a one-out walk and a pair of singles, including Jose Molina's ball scooting by him on the mound, Britton got Ben Zobrist to ground out to nab the lead runner and struck out Wil Myers. He also navigated through a 1-2-3 eighth.
"He's in a good place right now, and you can see it. Presentation-wise as much as physically," manager Buck Showalter said.
"We had other people who could pitch, just the situation it puts you in a nice little rocking chair sometimes when you got a left-handed pitcher who can defend himself against right-handed hitters," said Showalter. "And that comes from his starting background some, too. He's got a pretty good sinker."
The difference in Britton, who made the team's Opening Day bullpen after an impressive spring, has been going back on the weighted ball program to strengthen his shoulder this offseason. The added velocity has given him more confidence to come out of the bullpen firing.
"His command for the sinker, I think being able to throw it for a strike as well as when it runs out of the zone is big for him," catcher Matt Wieters said of Britton's success. "I know this spring he took a lot of pride in working on that and trying to get it the way he could command it."
The O's offense, which went down nine in a row following Nick Markakis' leadoff single, got things going off Rays starter Jake Odorizzi in the fourth, loading the bases with no outs. Nelson Cruz worked a leadoff walk and after Chris Davis singled, Jones beat out a bunt to third base, making good use of Evan Longoria playing deep.
"Sometimes you've just got to be able to use your legs," said Jones who was scratched from playing the field prior to the game. "You're not always going to be able to swing the bat to the best of your ability or the way you would like to. So, in certain situations it's smart to drop a bunt down and get your timing back."
Wieters drove in the first run, sending a 2-2 pitch into the deepest part of the park for a sacrifice fly. J.J. Hardy's grounder back to the mound went by Odorizzi, who, upon recovering it, was forced to go to first base to allow the O's a second run.
The Orioles loaded the bases again with two outs in the fifth, and Jones hit a swinging bunt that Longoria waited to trickle foul. But it never did, allowing Ryan Flaherty to score to make it 3-0.
"Adam posting up, period. That's hard to do," Showalter said. "You look at the way this [flu-like] thing's going on around the game. Most people aren't playing the next day in a day game. That's another testament to Adam. His effort level every day, it's hard to do what he does."
The trio of runs was plenty for the Orioles' arms, with Hunter closing it down in the ninth. Gonzalez set the tone for the pitching early, stranding at least one baserunner in each of the first four innings, and he was helped greatly by a fantastic double play by Markakis in right field.
With runners on first and second and one out, Markakis made a diving catch on Desmond Jennings' fading liner, getting up and firing to shortstop Hardy at second base to also nab James Loney and end the inning.
Gonzalez needed 81 pitches over that span. While he was able to keep Tampa Bay off the board, he exited after allowing three hits and three walks over five innings in favor of Britton.
"I think as the weather warms up, Miggy's only going to get better," Showalter said of Gonzalez, who has been unable to go over six innings in his first three starts and has had the hard luck of dealing with some unfortunate climates. "Maybe by, what, July, it might get warm? We're going to be complaining about the heat here before too long. You know that."
Cold or not, the Orioles head to Boston following Thursday's off-day feeling pretty good after back-to-back wins that have shown encouraging signs from both the pitching and defense.
"That's good momentum we have as a club," Gonzalez said. "I think we're doing a pretty good job right now. It's exciting. We've got Boston next. We've just got to focus on that and keep throwing the ball well."
Said Rays manager Joe Maddon: "We had opportunities there [against Britton], we just let him off the hook a little bit. There were some pretty good matchups in our favor there that got away. But he got through it and they were able to scratch out the runs they needed and they beat us."