Monday’s Orioles home opener was special in a number of ways. On most Opening Days, the game ends around six, and fans go home for dinner.
This opener was three minutes shorter than the two rain delays, and by the time the game ended, at about 8:45 p.m., perhaps a third of the original crowd remained.
They saw Chris Tillman, who like the rest of the starting pitchers, had a rough spring training, look sparkling for six batters, the last five of whom he struck out.
They watched the bullpen hold a Minnesota Twins team, who Buck Showalter thinks is one of the best in baseball, to two runs in seven innings.
And, they saw Mark Trumbo, who’s been portrayed as a one-dimensional power hitter, slap four singles.
Most of the fans who remained went home raving about Joey Rickard, who didn’t seemed fazed as he made the jump from playing in tiny Florida ballparks to much larger ones.
He began his major league career with two hits and an excellent catch, which some fans criticized, because the Twins scored the tying run as he ran down a foul fly ball.
Showalter said he made the right play, taking the out, and it only set up the winning room, which came with two outs in the ninth.
Matt Wieters, who has a special relationship with Tillman, loved his fastball, but looked tentative at the plate when he watched two called third strikes go by with runners on base and two outs.
Wieters ended the game by lining a ball up the middle to score Chris Davis just after Trumbo’s fourth single.
The Orioles, who during the first weeks of spring training, looked anything but crisp, seemed especially fluid defensively.
If Rickard can hit decently, and no one expects his spring heroics to continue, his fundamentally strong play in left field can make a real difference.
Rickard impressed all who watched him in March with his heady outfield play. A year ago, he began with the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs in Class A, and on Monday became the first Orioles Rule 5 draft choice to start on Opening Day.
Of all the things we saw on Monday, the most impressive and meaningful was Tillman’s electric stuff. After his spring starts, he kept saying how he was happy with how he threw while his line said otherwise.
A year ago, Tillman looked terrific in spring training, then struggled through an inconsistent season.
If Tillman, second game starter Yovani Gallardo and Ubaldo Jimenez can have representative starts this week, it could show baseball that the Orioles are much better than most had predicted.
Tillman would normally have gone on Saturday, on four days rest, but because of the artificially short start, Showalter may think again about the rotation.
After Gallardo and Jimenez face the Twins, Mike Wright is scheduled to face Tampa Bay on Friday night, and while Showalter hasn’t picked a starter for Sunday, Tyler Wilson is likely to get it.
Wilson pitched three scoreless innings in back of Tillman. The other candidate for the Sunday start is Vance Worley, who was warming up and would have pitched Monday’s 10th inning and beyond, if necessary.
The team struck out 10 times, which could happen regularly, but walked five times, which Showalter pointed out after the game.
Last year, the Orioles averaged over eight strikeouts and about 2.5 walks per game.
Rickard seems sensible, and readily admitted to being nervous, but it didn’t seem to stop him. What was most impressive about him last month was how comfortable he seemed at the plate as the month went on and the pitching improved. His average did, too.
The Orioles’ 25-man roster will change quickly. Brian Matusz will throw on Thursday at Bowie, and then return to the Orioles on Sunday. Kevin Gausman, after two rehab outings, should be back on Apr. 19, Showalter said.
Jimmy Paredes, the third Oriole on the disabled list, is still far from playing. He’s swinging a bat without facing live pitching. At the end of spring training, Showalter cautioned that Paredes shouldn’t be forgotten.
Paredes was hurt early in spring training and didn’t get a chance to revisit the glory days of March 2015 when he was Joey Rickard.
Unlike Rickard, Paredes started last season on the disabled list, and when Jonathan Schoop was hurt, he stepped in and began hitting for half a season.
It would have been interesting to see how Showalter would have used Paredes in spring training, and whether that would have impacted the decision to keep Hyun Soo Kim. If the decision came down to Kim and Paredes instead of Kim and Xavier Avery, would Paredes would have been let go?
Probably, but the switch hitting Paredes could still come in handy later on.