Whatever is it, Showalter’s way is working in Baltimore. The Orioles currently carry only nine players who were on the 40-man roster when Showalter came to town. The results? A franchise that hasn’t posted a winning record since 1997 matched last year’s win total (69) just 126 games into the season. And they’ve done it without consistent stars and dependable heroes, using a formula that probably won’t inspire a best-selling book. The victories are all in the details; for Showalter, they always have been.
“Buck was fantastic to work with,” said Judson Burch, the producer of ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” during Showalter’s tenure as an analyst there, “because he always got us thinking about baseball as being much more complicated than it looked on TV. . . . He was always asking questions, always challenging the idea that baseball was simple.”
One day last week, pitcher Zach Britton allowed only one run in eight innings, striking out 10 in a big way. After the game he was demoted. Showalter figured: It’s not like Britton would start again the next day, so why waste a roster spot? In all, the Orioles have made 157 roster moves since setting their opening day roster. Norfolk, the team’s Class AAA affiliate, has totaled 226 transactions, using 75 different players.
“You’d think we’re having a bad season or something with all the moves,” said Steve Johnson, Baltimore’s 25-year-old rookie pitcher. “But that’s not the case.”
Johnson is especially familiar with the route from Baltimore to Norfolk. He’s been optioned four times this season. Three of his stays with the big-league team lasted barely 24 hours.
“We’ve had a lot of moving parts all year, but guys know if you perform, they’re going to find a spot for you,” Johnson said.
While the heavy-handed approach might have rubbed some clubhouses the wrong way, in Baltimore the players can’t complain when it translates to wins. “We’re grown men,” Adam Jones said. “He don’t need to sugarcoat nothing.”
Showalter makes no apologies. He’s treated the organization’s so-called phenoms the same way he’s treated the guys found on the scrap heap. “There’s this new thing called ‘pitch better,’ ” he said without a laugh. “Just like me and you, right? We don’t deliver the goods, what are we doing next week?”
One day last week, he called Jake Arrieta into his office. Arrieta had started Baltimore’s home opener the past two seasons, but for the second time this year, Showalter sent him packing to Norfolk. Arrieta had been one of the organization’s top prospects, but a 3-9 record and 6.13 ERA couldn’t save his spot in the clubhouse.