Showalter tames expectations as Orioles start off with a bang

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BALTIMORE | Buck Showalter is at it again.

After guiding the last-place Baltimore Orioles to a 34-23 finish last season, Showalter warned that it would be foolish to expect a carry-over into this year.

And now, in the wake of Baltimore’s 4-0 start, he is again calling for the team’s long-suffering fans to temper their enthusiasm with a bit of perspective.

Showalter, who has managed the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers, can’t remember if he ever before won four in a row to start a season.

“I can tell you what the records were at the end of the year. … You’ve had periods with 100 wins when you lost four or five in a row and with 95 losses when you’ve won four or five in a row,” he said. “So you try to get a grip on reality. It’s tough to do sometimes.”

Especially for a franchise that has been so bad for so long. The Orioles haven’t been 4-0 since 1997, when they remained in first place in the AL East for the entire year. That also happens to be the last time Baltimore had a winning season.

So it’s understandable if the Orioles and their fans prefer to live in a seemingly alternate universe in which Baltimore stands atop the tough AL East. And even if it doesn’t last deep into the summer, there’s always the hope this could be the year the Orioles end their franchise-record streak of losing seasons.

“It’s fun to be part of this team right now,” said Jake Arrieta, a member of Baltimore’s promising young starting rotation. “I’m just real excited about the direction we’re going.”

Despite Showalter’s effort to downplay Baltimore’s resurgence, the Orioles have become a better team since he managed his first game in August.

A year ago, under manager Dave Trembley, the Orioles started 2-16 and never climbed out of last place. Baltimore didn’t win its fourth game until April 27 and was 32-73 when Showalter replaced interim manager Juan Samuel, who stepped in for Trembley on June 4.

Showalter became the first manager since 1900 to take over a team in August or later and garner more wins than the team had before his arrival. And, despite his assertion that one season doesn’t necessarily bleed into the next, the Orioles have picked up where they left off.

In sweeping the defending AL East-champion Tampa Bay Rays and defeating Detroit in the home opener Monday, Baltimore never trailed and allowed only one run in each game.

“I think it started in spring training,” newcomer Derrek Lee said. “I thought we played pretty good baseball, and it just carried over the first four games.”

Baltimore entered its first off day Tuesday as one of only four unbeaten teams, along with Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Texas. The Orioles are the only one in the bunch that didn’t make the playoffs last season.

“It’s always nice to get off to a good start,” shortstop J.J. Hardy said. “I think it takes away a lot of pressure. We’re having a lot of fun right now.”

In an effort to build upon the team’s strong finish last year, Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail aggressively addressed several weaknesses during the offseason. He added punch to the lineup by trading for Hardy and third baseman Mark Reynolds and signing free agents Lee and Vladimir Guerrero.

“We got a lineup top to bottom that anybody on any given day can take you deep and drive in four or five runs,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “That’s pretty hard to defend.”

MacPhail also shored up the bullpen with free agent closer Kevin Gregg.

But the biggest reason behind Baltimore’s 4-0 start is an inexperienced, makeshift starting rotation. Jeremy Guthrie launched the season with eight shutout innings at Tampa Bay, and 22-year-old Chris Tillman followed by pitching six innings of no-hit ball.

Emergency starter Zach Britton then allowed one run and three hits in six innings in his major league debut Sunday, and Arrieta continued the trend by scattering six hits over six innings Monday against a Detroit team that scored 19 runs in three games at Yankee Stadium.

“I think we all feed off each other,” said Arrieta, who went 6-6 as a rookie last year. “With each quality outing, we all continue to get better when we see our teammates pitching that well.”

Baltimore starters have a 0.69 ERA, and that’s with Brian Matusz and Justin Duchscherer on the disabled list. Britton filled in nicely for Matusz, and Brad Bergesen has been asked to replace Guthrie (fever) on Wednesday against the Tigers.

That’s the kind of depth that has been missing in Baltimore for years.

In addition, the Orioles have averaged over four runs a game despite slow starts by Lee (.214), Reynolds (.200), Guerrero (.125) and Jones (.125).

But Hardy, the last man in the lineup, has scored four runs; leadoff hitter Brian Roberts has two homers and eight RBI; and No. 2 hitter Nick Markakis is batting .429.

“We’ve been OK. I think we can be a little bit better,” Lee said. “Brian has basically been our offense so far. I think we’ll get some other guys get hot. When we all start clicking on all cylinders, I think we’ll be really good.”

Detroit manager Jim Leyland is already impressed.

“They’re pitching good,” he said. “They have a lot of things going for them right now.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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