Alexi Casilla has had a difficult enough time breaking into the Orioles’ starting lineup recently, let alone being a home run threat.
But when Orioles manager Buck Showalter selected his batting order for Tuesday night’s game against the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards, he knew about Casilla’s success against Indians right-hander Justin Masterson. And Showalter’s decision to start Casilla at second base over hot-hitting Ryan Flaherty paid huge dividends.
Making just his fourth start this month, Casilla hit his first homer of the season, a three-run shot off Masterson in the seventh inning to give the Orioles a 6-3 win over the Indians in front of an announced 20,924 at Camden Yards.
Known more for his speed and defense than power, Casilla has only 12 homers in eight big-league seasons, but his last home run ironically came against Masterson on last Aug. 8.
“Alexi's a talented guy and I'm trying to not let him sit too long,” Showalter said. “I know he's going to play [Wednesday] and I'd like to give him the benefit of two days in a row. And he's had a little success off Masterson. There aren't many guys that have. That was it. I think he sat a little longer than he should have, too, so I wanted to give him a couple days.”
Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman settled in after battling out of some early-inning jams on his way to his career-high sixth straight victory.
With the win, the Orioles (43-35) snapped their four-game losing streak, their second-longest skid of the season.
“It felt great after I hit that home run because we lost four games in a row,” Casilla said in Spanish through coach Einar Diaz. “I felt like I had to come and do something for the team and I did it that time. It was really good for me. It was a pitcher I know and I wanted to help the team to win a game.”
Casilla entered the game hitting .342 (9-for-26) in his career against Masterson, seeing him often in the AL Central when he played for the Minnesota Twins, but Casilla struck out in his first two at-bats of the night before he took a 1-1 hanging slider into the right-center field stands, breaking a 3-3 tie.
“It’s big,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “It’s a little guy who hit a ball a long way. It’s a big lift for us to be able to get a lead and to be able to get a three-run lead and turn it over to the bullpen and get a win. It’s a big win.”
Much like last season, the Orioles have received huge contributions across their roster, especially from reserve players who have taken advantage of rare starts like Casilla. Last week, reserve catcher Taylor Teagarden homered twice, breaking a tied game open in Detroit with a three-run homer. Chris Dickerson hit a walk-off homer last month against the Tigers and had a two-homer game against the Yankees.
"They feel for them,” Showalter said of the contributions of the Orioles’ bench players. “They see the work they do. They see the early work on the road to hone their skills. … They want to be there. I'd like to think they know I'm going to give them an opportunity to contribute, and they just want to be ready. I'm trying to keep everybody involved because we're going to need them, and tonight is a good example of that."
The Orioles, who lead the majors with 108 homers, hit two off Masterson in the seventh. After Adam Jones was hit by a pitch to open the inning, Chris Davis tagged a first-pitch sinker deep into the right-center field stands for his major league-leading 28th homer of the season to tie the score at 3.
Masterson (9-6) was masterful against the Orioles early, retiring the first 12 hitters he faced before Jones’ leadoff single in the fifth. Masterson had his slider and sinker working against the Orioles, working both sides of the plate with pitches that tailed out of the strike zone.
“Jonesy’s hit kind of let everybody breathe kind of easier,” Davis said. “You know, he’s a guy that throws from a funky angle, throws hard. Everything he throws moves. He’s tough, man. It looked like it was going to be one of those nights where if we could just scratch out a few runs, try to get to the bullpen, that was our best chance to win.”
Despite a shaky 23-pitch first-inning, Tillman (9-2) recorded his fourth quality start in his last five outings and his 10th in 16 starts this season.
“More of my wins are team wins,” Tillman said. “It’s not so much going out there and pitching all that great, to tell you the truth. We play good defense, swing the bat, you keep it close and you got a pretty good chance of winning a ball game.”
Despite all the talk of the Orioles needing to bolster their starting rotation after being swept in Toronto, Tillman has quietly been a tremendous bright spot. Over the past calendar year, Tillman is 18-5 and his .783 winning percentage in that span is the second highest among American League starters with at least 12 decisions behind Detroit’s Max Scherzer (21-2, .913).
“He just doesn't give in,” Showalter said. “He had an extra day of rest today. Tilly's a good teammate. As you get to know him, there's a lot beating in there. Very competitive guy. Sometimes, there's a little eye wash, but he holds himself to a high standard.”
Also, Tillman’s six wins since May 24 are tied with Oakland’s Bartolo Colon for the most in the American League in that span.
Tillman allowed three runs over seven innings — his only major mistake a two-run homer by Jason Kipnis in the fifth inning. After that homer, which gave the Indians (39-37) a 3-0 lead, he retired the final eight batters he faced.
"You can see his rhythm pick up and his everything,” Showalter said. “It was kind of tough when we were making three up, three down real quick and he went out there and got into some deep pitch counts it seemed like every inning. And once he got in step, you saw him really get after it.
Tillman battled with his control early — tying his season high of four walks in the third inning — but was able to maneuver his way out of jams.
The Indians (39-37) loaded the bases against Tillman with one out in the first inning after a Kipnis single and two walks, but limited the Indians to one run when Michael Brantley’s sacrifice fly and an over-the-shoulder catch by third baseman Manny Machado in shallow left field.
With his leadoff single in the fifth, Jones was the first Orioles baserunner of the game and later came around to score on a double by Davis and J.J. Hardy’s RBI fielder’s choice, a grounder to short in which Davis’ slide broke up a double play.