The Orioles found themselves in a curious situation Wednesday night, when they had backup catcher Gregg Zaun at the plate with two outs and two runners on base in the ninth inning.
With his team trailing by two runs, manager Dave Trembley elected not to use starter Matt Wieters as a pinch-hitter and said that it wasn’t really a consideration. Zaun wound up working the count full and striking out looking against closer Fernando Rodney.
“I highly doubt if Wieters has been in that situation before,” Trembley said. “I think Zaun has probably been there many, many times. I’d prefer to just stay with where we’re at right there.”
Veteran backstop Gregg Zaun caught Chris Tillman’s Major League debut on Wednesday night and came away impressed with his potential. Zaun, a 13-year veteran of the big leagues, provided a scouting report that makes Tillman sound like a potential long-term ace.
“I saw flashes of what I’ve heard,” said Zaun. “Real good fastball and at times an extremely sharp breaking ball, what some people might call a yakker. He’s got a good one. It’s there. And he’s got a tremendous changeup. But his offspeed stuff was in and out, and it was hard to get into a rhythm because he was in and out of the zone with all three of his pitches. “
The wait is over. Andy MacPhail, Baltimore’s president of baseball operations, announced on Tuesday’s telecast that Matt Wieters will be called up to the Majors on Friday. Wieters, the team’s top prospect, is currently hitting .285 with five home runs for Triple-A Norfolk.
Wieters, the fifth overall selection in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, tore through two levels and was named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year last season. The switch-hitter should step in immediately as the team’s starting catcher, supplanting Gregg Zaun.
The Orioles have decided to grant staff ace Jeremy Guthrie a personal catcher, linking their Opening Day starter to backup catcher Chad Moeller. Moeller has been able to steady Guthrie, and manager Dave Trembley said he wants to continue that trend. However, Trembley went out of his way to say it’s not a knock on starter Gregg Zaun.
“If some other time comes where Moeller is not catching Guthrie, I don’t want it to send a red flag,” he said. “But Zaun has caught four days in a row [and] five out of the last six. The last time that Guthrie pitched, he …threw a great game with Moeller. So I’m catching him tonight.”
In addition to making Guthrie more comfortable, it also gives Trembley a pattern for playing his catchers. This way, Moeller knows when he’ll play next and Zaun knows when he’ll get a day off. Trembley said he doesn’t think it will be a problem over the long haul.
“I don’t think there is any problem between them,” he said of the relationship between Guthrie and Zaun. “But if I could do something to make the situation more comfortable for the guy on the mound, I’ll certainly try to extend that.”
Koji Uehara has worked well with American catchers Gregg Zaun and Chad Moeller during his first six starts as an Oriole, and he demonstrated Tuesday that he won’t allow the language barrier to stop him from picking up intricacies of the game.
Uehara credited Zaun with alerting him to a tendency for shortstop Jason Bartlett, who found himself on second late in a tie game. Zaun had told Uehara that Bartlett likes to steal third before the game, and then he told him again to try a pickoff in the heat of the moment.
Bartlett, who was looking right at Uehara as the veteran began his move, got caught breaking to third and attempting to get back to second. Zaun speculated that Bartlett was intent on going because he flashed a sign for a breaking ball, and Uehara gave his catcher the credit.
Aubrey Huff contributed to a potential game-changing rally on Sunday, when he pegged a line drive off the Green Monster with no outs and decided to stay at first base. Huff, who moved Nick Markakis to third on the play, thought the ball was hit too hard to advance.
Baltimore ended up advancing to second on a run-scoring ground ball, but then the game ended on a fly ball to right field and a strikeout by pinch-hitter Gregg Zaun. And if he had to do it all over again, Huff said he would still have stayed put at first base.
“We had no outs. I don’t want to take a chance right there because if he does make a good throw, I’m dead meat,” said Huff. “[First-base coach John Shelby] held me up at first. I was probably not going to go anyway because I hit it so hard off the wall. Normally, those balls are singles anyway unless you really fly. And I don’t fly. In that situation, you don’t want to make the first out at second. I figured we’d take our chances there.”
Baltimore’s bench depth was sorely tested on Sunday, when center fielder Adam Jones left the game early with a tight right hamstring and the Orioles needed pinch-hitters in the ninth. Manager Dave Trembley was prepared to use his final two players as pinch-hitters — catcher Gregg Zaun and shortstop Cesar Izturis — but Zaun struck out to end the game.
Izturis, who was getting a day off, ended the game in the on-deck circle, and Trembley said he doesn’t mind using all his players.
“You’re going to do what you’ve got to do to try and win the game,” he said. “I really didn’t think twice about what the alternatives were. I thought we had our guys lined up. If we get a hit there, we’re talking about winning the game, not losing it. The short bench doesn’t bother me. You win the games because your pitching gives you the opportunity to be in position to win. You don’t win the games because of extra guys that are on your bench.”
Baltimore’s bench may be even thinner on Monday, because Jones isn’t expected to be healthy enough to play. That would leave Chad Moeller as the backup catcher and Robert Andino as the backup infielder, severely limiting Trembley’s in-game options.