Orioles seek balance of rest and wins down stretch

Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter watches from the dugout as Ryan Flaherty, front right, prepares for an at-bat in the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
Patrick Semansky

BALTIMORE (AP) There was a time when the Baltimore Orioles had very little to play for in September.

During their run of 14 straight losing seasons, the Orioles plodded through dozens of meaningless games as the regular season wound down. If they weren't playing for pride or their jobs, they were hoping to be spoilers.

This year, it's different.

Baltimore has already clinched a spot in the postseason as AL East champions, so winning isn't imperative. Sure, the Orioles still have a shot at overtaking the Los Angeles Angels to gain home-field advantage through the AL playoffs, but manager Buck Showalter is more interested in having his team fresh in October.

Having Thursday off helps, but over the final 10 games Showalter will seek to find the perfect balance between jockeying for position in the overall standings, resting his starters and making sure everyone's sharp in two weeks.

Right fielder Nick Markakis got the night off Wednesday in a 6-1 win over Toronto, and Showalter said relievers Tommy Hunter, Darren O'Day and Andrew Miller were not going to be used.

Center fielder Adam Jones and shortstop J.J. Hardy may get some rest when Boston comes to town for a weekend series that opens Friday, and Nelson Cruz and will soon get a break, too.

''I wanted to make sure we presented it properly so the players knew mentally and emotionally as much as physically,'' Showalter said. ''There will be nights when guys don't pitch. I think it will be more from a pitching standpoint than anything else. I talked to a lot of guys who have played a lot of games how we're going to do this.''

Showalter won't go into full substitution mode until the standings are a bit more definitive.

''Our guys are going to play, especially with some of the emotion of playing at home and going to New York (to face Derek Jeter and the Yankees),'' Showalter said. ''Those are still meaningful games to us. If we reach the point where we can't lose home field advantage to Detroit or Kansas City and we can't catch Anaheim, then we have a different dynamic.''

Also at stake: Assessing the rotation and determining the postseason roster. For instance, who plays third, Ryan Flaherty, Kelly Johnson or Jimmy Paredes?

Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen are sure to start games one and two, but who follows, Bud Norris or Miguel Gonzalez? Both have excelled in the second half, and it seems as if Showalter can't go wrong no matter who he picks.

''When your starting pitching starts to perform, that really stabilizes your ballclub,'' said Dan Duquette, the Orioles vice president of baseball operations. ''Our starting pitching has performed at a high level since June 1st. They've done a terrific job. Once that happens, it takes a lot of pressure off the other areas of the team.''

The pitching has been solid, but the most notable player for the Orioles down the stretch has been Steve Pearce, who hit a three-run homer in the division-clincher on Tuesday and added two more long balls on Wednesday.

As far as Pearce is concerned, the Angels are still very much in Baltimore's sights.

''We're excited. We know we can do it,'' he said. ''We're going to and play our game and not going to change our game because we won the East. We're going to go out there and keep our foot on the gas pedal and hope everything works out.''

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