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The Wednesday Takeaway
No home crowd?

No problem for the Orioles.

Caleb Joseph signed some autographs

Chris Davis tossed a baseball into the stands

and, up in the broadcast booth, veteran play-by-play man Gary Thorne did his best Jim Nantz-at-Augusta to commemorate a ballgame unlike any other:

A fine ballgame it was, too, at least if you’re an Orioles fan.

After taking the field to no cheers whatsoever, Ubaldo Jimenez responded with two strikeouts and a comebacker in the first inning. Then, every Oriole starter batted in the bottom half of the frame, an impressive feat considering Alejandro De Aza’s leadoff walk was the only free pass Jeff Samardzija gave out.

Following De Aza’s base on balls, Samardzija zoned in and fired strike after strike. But not all strikes are created equal, and most of the right-hander’s first-inning offerings were of dubious quality. The O’s capitalized on the steady diet of belt-high stuff, as each crack of the bat echoed around the virtually empty stadium.

Jose Abreu’s error gift-wrapped Baltimore’s second baserunner, and Adam Jones’ bases-loaded sacrifice fly brought in the home team’s first run. Two batters later, Chris Davis drove in three more

and left a souvenir for the next user of the right-field men’s room. Then, back-to-back doubles by Manny Machado and Everth Cabrera made it 5-0 O’s, and a single by Caleb Joseph, scoring the latter, completed their six-spot.

Three straight hits, the last of them another RBI single by Joseph—good karma, apparently, for all those autographs he signed—upped the lead to 7-0 in the third, before the White Sox, buoyed by a Machado error, nixed the shutout in the top of the fifth. Machado avenged that miscue soon after

with a thunderous liner into the home bullpen. The third baseman’s 400-footer left him a triple shy of the cycle, but he grounded out to second in the seventh, coming up short of treating the fans scouts in attendance to the first big-league cycle of the year.

8-2 was the score when Machado’s homer landed, and 8-2 it would stay, as Kevin Gausman and Zach Britton locked down the South Siders in the wake of an excellent effort by Jimenez. The 31-year-old went seven innings, permitted two unearned runs, walked one, and struck out six to pare his ERA down to 1.59.

Jimenez’ tightened control, along with the serene atmosphere, helped speed the game along at a brisk pace—just over two hours, from start to finish:

With this surreal experience behind them, the Orioles will have to wait five more days for normalcy to be fully restored. They’re off today and Monday, and in between, they’ll call Tropicana Field their home yard during a three-game series with the Rays.

Photos from our own Stephen Reichert, who was there!

Quick Hits From Wednesday
Batting .227/.271/.318 at the start of play on Wednesday, Ryan Braun was in dire straits. The outfielder had just two extra-base hits to show for his first 70 plate appearances of 2015, and when your XBH and walks sum to equal your double-play grounders, well, it’s safe to say you’re off to a rough start.

A first-time starter fresh up from the minors, boasting big-league stuff but still learning how to employ it, was just what the doctor ordered for Braun and the 4-17 Brewers. With Homer Bailey shelved by a sprained elbow ligament, the Reds turned to Michael Lorenzen in the matinee at Great American Ball Park, and as Mark Anderson noted in his scouting writeup of the right-hander out of Cal State Fullerton, while Lorenzen’s fastball and slider propelled him up the ladder, his spotty command foretold growing pains.

The 23-year-old rolled through a 1-2-3 first, but after Todd Frazier homered to give him a lead, Lorenzen gave it right back.

Adam Lind pounced on a center-cut 1-1 fastball to make the first hit logged off Lorenzen a loud one. Two batters later, Khris Davis followed suit on a 95-mph payoff pitch that sailed out over the plate:

To the young righty’s credit, neither the big flies nor the fourth-inning jam into which he was thrust fazed him in his debut. A two-way prospect who was also an All-American center fielder for the Titans, Lorenzen collected his first big-league hit in the last of the second, working a 3-2 count before punching a 94-mph heater to the opposite field:

Then, in the fourth, with the score still 2-1 Milwaukee, a double by Aramis Ramirez and a walk issued to Davis put two men on with nobody out. Lorenzen gathered himself and fanned Martin Maldonado, and then, when a Hector Gomez single loaded the bases, he got the strikeout he needed out of Matt Garza, before coaxing an inning-ending grounder from Jean Segura.

All of that’s very nice. Trouble is, Lorenzen’s fastball kept leaking out over the plate

and it was just the pick-me-up that Braun needed to slug his third homer of the year and build the Brewers lead to 3-1.

Tucker Barnhart helped his battery-mate’s cause with a solo shot to begin the bottom of the fifth, and that's when Reds skipper Bryan Price decided to let Lorenzen hit for himself, even though he was through on the mound. Thus, Lorenzen’s day ended with a swinging strikeout, and 107 pitches through five.

If that seems like a hefty five-inning workload for a pitcher in his major-league debut, well, it sure is. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, Lorenzen is just the ninth hurler in the pitch-count era to kick-and-deal 107 or more times while recording 15 or fewer outs in his first career game. The previous National League pitcher to do it—I swear, I’m not making this up—was none other than Homer Bailey, the man he replaced.

As for the Reds and Brewers, the 3-1 score held until the top of the eighth, when the adventures of Jumbo Diaz commenced. He began by giving up a single to Maldonado, and then failed to turn Gomez’ sacrifice bunt into an out. Pinch-hitter Gerardo Parra reached on an infield hit to load the bases, and after getting a much-needed, harmless flyball from Segura, Diaz undid all the benefit of that job well done by plunking Logan Schafer to force in a run. And then, up stepped a rejuvenated Braun

who clubbed a grand slam to double his homer output for the season in one afternoon.

That made it 8-1 Milwaukee, but it also left Diaz with something of a weird line. One inning, three hits, one BB+HBP—and a whopping five earned runs. There aren’t many ways to book precisely that line, but flubbing a fielder’s choice, as Diaz did, would do the trick. It turns out, per the Play Index, that Diaz is the first pitcher ever to go out with a 1 IP, 3 H, 5 R/ER, 1 BB+HBP line.

And thanks in part to his unique efforts, the Brewers cruised to their fifth win of the year.

***

Shane Greene and Phil Hughes both faced the minimum through three innings at Target Field yesterday afternoon. Greene made an error in the first and allowed a single in the second, but those were erased on double plays—the first a strike-‘em-out, throw-‘em-out, the second a conventional 4-6-3. Hughes gave up an infield single in the third, but a caught stealing took care of that, too.

Just a tidy afternoon affair in Minnesota. Or so it seemed.

By the end of it, there were 30 hits and 17 runs on the board. Each team scored seven times in the middle innings. And while the Twins did all their damage against Greene, the Tigers were just getting warmed up when Hughes departed with a hip flexor strain.

Tim Stauffer came on in relief of Hughes with a 7-3 lead in his back pocket, and he promptly began to waste it. Hanging sliders to Miguel Cabrera is never a good idea

because they tend to go a looooooooong way. Doing it with J.D. Martinez in the box isn’t advisable, either:

And when Nick Castellanos singled two batters later, Paul Molitor had seen enough. He called for Aaron Thompson to face James McCann, the owner of zero major-league home runs entering play on Wednesday. And while McCann still hasn’t thumped a ball over a fence, he’ll one day tell his grandchildren about this game-tying inside-the-parker:

Since the Twins couldn't get anything going against the Tigers bullpen in the seventh and eighth, the visitors had plenty of time to take they lead. Which they did, on a two-run eighth-inning single by Romine. Cabrera’s second jack of the day, a solo job in the ninth, made it 10-7. And while Joakim Soria allowed Minnesota to bring the tying run to the plate, he punched out Trevor Plouffe to close the door on the eventful afternoon.

***

There were strikeouts aplenty in the series finale between the Rays and Yankees, which is part of the reason the AL East rivals needed 13 innings to settle the score.

The visitors fanned 13 times, five of them at the hands of Michael Pineda, five more courtesy of bullpen stalwarts Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. The home team went down looking or swinging on 16 occasions, 10 of them with Drew Smyly on the bump, and five to the credit of reliever Steve Geltz.

While all of those pitchers flashed electric stuff, none was as efficient in racking up Ks as Geltz was: His five came in a span of five batters. And that makes Geltz the 21st pitcher in the last century to face at least five hitters and K them all. Eight of those 21 have come since 2010, the most recent being Luke Hochevar on September 10th, 2013.

Before extras, the Rays got their runs on a two-run triple by Kevin Kiermaier in the fourth. The Yankees answered with a pair of solo blasts, one each by Chase Headley and Chris Young. And that was all for either offense until the 13th.

Left-hander Chasen Shreve got the call from Joe Girardi in that frame, and he retired Tim Beckham before walking Steven Souza, who advanced into scoring position on a grounder by Asdrubal Cabrera. Girardi elected to have Shreve walk Evan Longoria to fill the open base, thereby setting up a lefty-on-lefty battle with James Loney.

Desired matchup? Check.

Defensive shift implemented? Check.

Out recorded?

Nuuuuupe.

Loney’s RBI single made it 3-2 Rays, pinning the Yankees’ backs against the wall in the last of the 13th. That’s when Alex Rodriguez stepped to the plate, a golden sombrero already on his head, representing the winning run with Young on first and one away. To add insult to insult, A-Rod hit into a double play. In so doing, per the Play Index, he became the first player to strike out four or more times and bounce into a game-ending twin killing since Ed Sprague did it on May 28th, 1995.

Ernesto Frieri picked up the save as the Rays avoided a sweep.

***

The Astros started 7-14 last season. A simple upturn would have been a step in the right direction on the franchise’s road back to relevance. Instead, they turned that road into a Texas freeway by completely flipping the script.

Seeking a sweep of the Padres in San Diego on Wednesday afternoon, Dallas Keuchel ceded a first-inning run on a single by Wil Myers and a double by Matt Kemp. Little did the Friars know that the early edge was all they’d get.

A sac fly by Jose Altuve knotted the score in the third. A double by George Springer followed by a dinger from Colby Rasmus

left Andrew Cashner and the Padres in a 3-1 hole.

Meanwhile, Keuchel morphed back into April 2015 Keuchel, the ground-ball machine that packed a 0.62 ERA on the trip to San Diego. Just one Padre so much as reached base between the fourth and eighth, and that, oddly enough, was Cashner, whose sixth-inning leadoff single went to waste when the next three Padres all made outs.

Keuchel completed eight innings, limited the newly powerful Pads to three hits, and K’d four without doling out a walk. The recipe was simple:

get ahead, stay ahead, and—all the while—keep the ball down. That big hole in the upper third of the strike zone spells two words: mission accomplished.

Three runs would have sufficed for Houston, but the Astros decided to lay waste to first-year closer Craig Kimbrel, pressed into mopup duty to keep his arm fresh, before leaving town.

Kimbrel, whose first six pitches were all 97-mph fastballs to Chris Carter, was shaky from the get-go, that gas notwithstanding. So was his catcher, Wil Nieves, who surrendered a passed ball, and then watched Kimbrel uncork a wild pitch, which together moved Carter all the way to third.

Carter then scored on a RBI single by Jake Marisnick, who promptly stole second on Kimbrel and Nieves’ watch. The backstop’s nightmarish inning only got worse from there

as Marisnick swiped third and kept running when the throw down sailed several feet wide of the bag.

With the bases now empty, Evan Gattis singled, and that was all for Kimbrel, who stared helplessly from the dugout as Brandon Maurer permitted Gattis to score on a double by Altuve. Maurer then put the cherry on top of the embarrassing frame by starting this goat rodeo on a comebacker from Marwin Gonzalez:

That made it 7-1 Houston, and the visitors would go on to win 7-2, capping a fantastic, 8-1 road trip against three potential contenders.

A.J. Hinch’s squad is now 10-2 away from Minute Maid Park in his first season at the helm. They’ll return to Houston to host the Mariners tonight, tipping off a 10-game homestand over which they’ll try to improve on their lowly 4-5 record at the juice box.

***

Nelson Cruz’ boomstick was booming at his old stomping grounds last night:

That’s 483 feet worth of boom, served up by Wandy Rodriguez, who matched Felix Hernandez through four before coming unglued.

It was 2-2 when the fifth inning began, but a double by Justin Ruggiano put Rodriguez in trouble from the get-go. He bounced back to strike out Robinson Cano, which enabled him to intentionally walk Cruz. But walking Rickie Weeks right after that was no way to go through life, because Logan Morrison followed with a two-run double, one of his four hits in the contest.

Now pitching with a 4-2 advantage, Hernandez and relievers Danny Farquhar and Fernando Rodney teamed up to hold the Rangers to just one more baserunner the rest of the way. King Felix went 6 2/3 innings to notch his fourth win of the year, Farquhar gobbled up 1 1/3, and Rodney earned his seventh save with a 1-2-3 ninth.

***

Dodger Stadium isn’t quite the hitters’ haven that Globe Life Park is, but the ball was jumping out of the park in Los Angeles last night:

The Dodgers took full advantage of a shaky Ryan Vogelsong, tattooing him for three first-inning bombs, one each by new leadoff man Joc Pederson, cleanup hitter Adrian Gonzalez, and no. 7 batter Andre Ethier.

Two innings later, Jimmy Rollins got in on the fun, and it was 6-1 Dodgers before Rollins’ shortstop counterpart, Brandon Crawford, launched one off of Zack Greinke to make it 6-2.

In the end, Greinke proved much sturdier than Vogelsong, navigating the warm and light Southern California air to hold the Giants to three runs in five innings. Vogelsong was gone with one out in the fourth, saddled with four homers that bumped his season total to eight gopherballs in 19 2/3 frames.

The Dodgers came away with the 7-3 victory, taking the series, two games to one.

The Defensive Play of the Day

Full-extension dives and acrobatic throws are fun. This play by Peter Bourjos had neither. It’s merely a testament to the value of route efficiency and closing speed:

What to Watch on Thursday

Start your afternoon with the major-league debut of Cardinals left-hander Tim Cooney, who’s been called up to replace the injured Adam Wainwright. A third-round pick out of Wake Forest in 2012, Cooney cruised up the minor-league chain, posting a 125-to-18 K:BB ratio in Double-A before the end of his first full professional season. He was in year two at Triple-A Memphis, with a 3.63 ERA and 14-to-5 K:BB clip to his name, when the door to the show swung ajar.

The 24-year-old Cooney placed seventh on Nick J. Falerispreseason top 10 list, mixing four average-or-better offerings to overcome the lack of a single plus pitch. Traits like “solid command profile” and “mature approach” suggest that Cooney could hold his own in the majors right off the bat, though a dip in strikeouts as he moved up the farm-system ladder is cause for concern. Test no. 1 for Cooney is a date with David Buchanan and the Phillies in the series finale at Busch Stadium (1:45 p.m. ET).

***

Shelby Miller has enjoyed a fine first month with the Braves, sporting a 2.05 ERA through four starts, even though his strikeout rate—which plummeted to 16.6 percent last year—has continued to erode. The right-hander is punching out a career-low 15.7 percent of the hitters digging in to face him, but he’s getting by thanks to a surging 57.1 percent ground-ball rate, which isn’t a bad plan when Andrelton Simmons stands behind you.

Miller’s new approach is the product of a change in his pitch mix, which is now heavily comprised of sinkers and cutters, with a lower dose of the power fastballs and sharp curves that got him to The Show. It’s done wonders for him so far, with opponents combining to bat just .191 on their 36 grounders, but the Braves’ .254 team BABIP allowed on the dirt suggests that some regression might be in store.

The 24-year-old Miller was initially scheduled to square off with Homer Bailey today, but the Reds righty is now on the shelf with a sprained ligament in his elbow. Lorenzen’s promotion bumped Mike Leake into this evening’s date with Miller (7:10 p.m. ET).

***

Finally, there’s a nice duel on tap in the opener of a four-game series between the Nationals and Mets—an opportunity for the visitors to gain ground or the home nine to pad its gap in the East division. Stephen Strasburg and Jacob deGrom are set to square off in game one at Citi Field, and both have room for improvement over their early-season results.

Ian Frazer covered Strasburg’s plight in detail on Monday, so we’ll cast the spotlight on deGrom, who was touched up for six runs on eight hits in five innings during his most recent outing, which came last Friday in the Bronx. The right-hander is rocking a pedestrian 4.54 DRA (more on that brand-new metric here), a steep climb from the 3.19 mark he turned in during his breakout 2014 campaign.

Erratic command undid DeGrom in his loss to the Yankees

when he struggled to miss bats and served up three homers, two by Mark Teixeira and one by Jacoby Ellsbury. Teixeira’s first-inning blast and Ellsbury’s both came on ill-located first-pitch fastballs, but deGrom’s inability to generate breaking-ball whiffs—he got just two on 21 tries—due in large part to the volume of hangers and easy takes, was as problematic as his difficulty spotting the heater near either corner.

deGrom tossed six innings of two-run ball versus the Nats on April 8th while Strasburg was knocked around for six runs (three earned) in 5 1/3 innings the next day. Perhaps a head-to-head meeting will provide the impetus necessary for the righties to put their best feet forward (7:10 p.m. ET).