Orioles Climb Back To .500 With Abbreviated Sweep Of Rays

Posted on April 16, 2014 by Paul Folkemer

This probably isn't how the Orioles expected to earn their first sweep of 2014, but it still counts.

The Birds claimed two wins against the Rays during an originally scheduled three-game series, winning the April 14 opener, 7-1, and tossing a 3-0 shutout April 16, with a rainout sandwiched in between.

At 7-7, the Orioles returned to a .500 record for the first time since Game No. 2, when they were 1-1.

MOTHER NATURE HELPS OUT

The April 15 postponement might have given the Orioles a boost. Originally, the Birds were scheduled to face Rays ace and former Cy Young winner David Price during the final game of the series. But with the rainout, the Rays bumped back their scheduled April 15 starter, Jake Odorizzi, to the finale. The Orioles got a favorable matchup against Odorizzi -- who allowed three runs and five hits in five innings -- while Price will start against the Yankees April 17.

Additionally, if the Orioles had played April 15, they wouldn't have had center fielder Adam Jones -- who was battling the flu -- in the starting lineup. Jones was healthy enough to return to the lineup April 16, and collected a pair of infield hits that contributed to rallies.

THE ROTATION IMPROVES

Starters Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez struggled during their first two turns through the rotation, but both showed signs of improvement during this series. Chen delivered a quality start -- 6.1 innings, one run -- April 14, and Gonzalez began the Birds' tag-team shutout April 16.

Gonzalez left the game after five innings with his pitch count at 98, but he made the most of his stint on the mound. Gonzalez struck out six and limited the Rays to three hits. The Rays put at least one runner on base every inning against Gonzalez, but he pitched out of trouble numerous times and ultimately picked up his first victory of 2014.

BRITTON DAZZLES AGAIN

The Orioles' bullpen continued to thrive during the series, with four relievers combining to work 6.2 scoreless innings. A standout of the bunch was again lefty Zach Britton, who hasn't missed a beat in his conversion to relief this year.

Zach Britton

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

Britton pitched his longest outing of the season April 16, working three innings in relief of Gonzalez and serving as a bridge to closer Tommy Hunter. Although the Rays loaded the bases during Britton's final inning of work, he held strong and didn't allow a run. Britton has worked 11.1 scoreless innings during six outings this season, and has worked at least two innings during all but one outing.

So far, Britton has been a valuable weapon for the Birds' relief crew. There aren't a lot of pitchers in the majors who can regularly eat up multiple innings of relief while pitching as effectively as Britton has. Many teams would've needed two or three relievers to cover the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, whereas Britton took them all on himself and gave his bullpen mates a rest.

NAVIGATING THE EAST

The MLB schedule makers are certainly testing the Orioles right out of the chute -- they pitted the O's against American League East opponents for 19 of their first 22 games, including a seven-game road trip to Boston and Toronto, which will begin April 18.

Thus far, the Orioles have held their own, going 6-5 during one series each against the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays. The Birds have a better intradivisional record so far than anyone in the AL East except the Yankees (6-4), which could be a promising sign moving forward.

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