Showalter, pitching have O’s off to fast start

Showalter, pitching have O’s off to fast start

Originally published in Newsday (N.Y.):

BALTIMORE — On the back of the famous red brick B&O Warehouse beyond rightfield at Camden Yards, a large poster of Orioles manager Buck Showalter hangs, greeting fans outside the stadium. Showalter is shown from the waist up in uniform on a mock baseball card; his left hand is extended and he is pointing with his index finger, looking much like Uncle Sam. Below Showalter’s likeness are the words: Are You Ready?

What to be ready for is left open-ended. That’s the idea.

It’s still very early in the season, but the Orioles have a 6-3 record, good for as many wins as they had last season on the first of May, when they were 6-18. They are 40-26 since hiring former Yankees manager Showalter last Aug. 3 to take over for interim manager Juan Samuel. That’s the best record of any American League team since then. They begin a three-game series at Yankee Stadium Tuesday in first place in the AL East, a game ahead of the Yankees.

These are signs of hope in a city where the franchise hasn’t had a winning season since 1997.

“Better than last year, I can tell you that,” centerfielder Adam Jones said while sitting at his locker Sunday before the Orioles finished a three-game series with the Texas Rangers. “Winning is better than losing. But we have 150 some-odd games to go. There’s no optimism here. We’ve got to go play them and see where we’re at when July or August comes around.”

That implies the Orioles have plans of being in the conversation as a competitive team in the division come late summer. During spring training, their manager attracted attention toward Baltimore with comments in a Men’s Journal article that tweaked the Yankees and Red Sox. Showalter said he’d like to see how successful Boston general manager Theo Epstein would be as the Tampa Bay Rays’ boss. “You got Carl Crawford ’cause you paid more than anyone else, and that’s what makes you smarter?” Showalter was quoted as saying.

On Derek Jeter, whom Showalter managed in his final season in New York in 1995, Showalter said: “He’s always jumping back from balls just off the plate. I know how many calls that team gets — and yes, he —- me off.”

Showalter later said he called Epstein to apologize. Asked Sunday if he did the same with Jeter, who later tried to laugh off the comments in an ESPN interview, Showalter said he had not reached out. He wouldn’t say if he planned to speak with Jeter about it.

“I haven’t talked to him,” Showalter said. “Haven’t really gotten that far . . . We’ll see.”

What has gotten the Orioles winning thus far is their starting pitching. The team’s 3.33 ERA is fifth in the AL; last year, the Orioles were second to last at 4.59.

Rookie lefthander Zach Britton has allowed one earned run in his first two starts. He tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings against Texas in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday, allowing four hits and inducing 15 ground balls to beat the previously undefeated and defending AL champion Rangers.

Jeremy Guthrie pitched eight scoreless innings in an Opening Day win over the Rays but missed his second scheduled start and spent a few days in the hospital because of pneumonia. He started Sunday against Texas and allowed one earned run in six innings. Reliever Jim Johnson allowed a two-run homer by Ian Kinsler in the 3-0 loss.

Chris Tillman has allowed four earned runs in two starts. Tillman is scheduled to start tonight against the Yankees.

“They’re a team that we know is going to be competitive in the division all year, and competing for a world title,” Showalter said. “We feel like we just played three of them [Rays, Tigers and Rangers]. But that’s life in the American League . . . It’s the world we live in. We’re OK with that. We just have to compete.”

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