ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Everywhere else he’s managed in the big leagues — New York, Arizona and Texas — Buck Showalter took teams that had a losing record in his first full season with them and guided them to a winning record the following year.
Turning the Baltimore Orioles around that quickly may be his biggest challenge yet, and pitching may be his toughest obstacle.
The Orioles slipped to an AL-worst 47-77 on Sunday after a 7-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels and Jerome Williams — a 29-year-old right-hander who hadn’t won a major league game in almost six years.
The Birds are a season-low 30 games under .500 and a season-worst 29 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East after getting swept for the seventh time in a series of three or more games. They have gone 15 straight series without winning one.
“I can’t fault the effort and the concentration level,” Showalter said. “Some days aren’t what I want it to be, but I also understand some of the challenges being placed on our guys that not many clubs are having to deal with. It’s part of the equation, but we’ll get better.”
Ten of the 25 players on their active roster have spent time in the minor leagues this season, not counting left-hander Zach Britton, who is expected to be activated Monday to start the opener of a three-game series at Minnesota when right-hander Jason Berken goes on the 15-day disabled list with a sore elbow.
“We think our pitching will get better,” Showalter said. “Sometimes, scouts will tell you it’s a 3-4 year proposition with young pitching. But we’ll keep grinding and try to get some of our young people healthy.”
After watching rookie third baseman Josh Bell fail to execute two critical plays during the 12th inning of Saturday night’s 9-8 loss, Showalter gave rookie second baseman Blake Davis his first start at third in the big leagues.
Davis, who took some ground balls about 2 hours before gametime under the supervision of bench coach Willie Randolph, committed a fielding error on the first chance he had — a routine grounder toward the hole by Maicer Izturis leading off the first inning.
Davis also made a throwing error in the eighth on an infield single by Peter Bourjos, who homered in his third straight game for the Angels.
“I felt bad for Blake because he’s a utility guy who plays all over,” Showalter said. “It was a tough day for him, but there’s been some really good players who have had days similar to that. So I have a little empathy for that. But at the same time, if you’re going to do the things that Blake’s going to have to do to play here, he’s going to have to do them.”
Izturis, the very first Angels batter, hit a routine grounder toward the hole that Davis misplayed. Izturis was erased on a fielder’s choice grounder by Bourjos, who took third on a hit-and-run single by Howie Kendrick before Brian Matusz (1-6) came back to strike out Torii Hunter and Mark Trumbo.
Vernon Wells led off the Angels’ second with a grounder to Davis behind the bag, and it bounced off his glove for a hit that originally was scored as an error. Wells was doubled off first on a hit-and-run flyout to right field by Erick Aybar, but doubles by Mike Trout and Bobby Wilson produced the game’s first run and Bourjos drove in Wilson with a single.
The beleaguered Davis also had trouble preventing a low throw from catcher Craig Tatum from skidding past him on a stolen base by Wells, who continued home on Tatum’s error. Wells reached on a double that left fielder Felix Pie lost in the sun.
Davis wasn’t the only Orioles player to start at a new position for the first time in the majors. Catcher Matt Wieters played first base in place of Mark Reynolds, who was banged up in a collision with Hank Conger as the Angels’ rookie ran out a bunt that Bell threw wildly to first during a 12th-inning rally on Saturday.
Matusz threw 84 pitches over four innings, giving up six runs– five earned– and eight hits against an all right-hander lineup that included the switch-hitting Izturis and Aybar.
“His command got him into trouble today, and we didn’t help matters defensively,” Showalter said. “Brian got hurt with some pitches and obviously had a little trouble with the running game, which has been a challenge for him. He had some strikeouts, but we created some situations for him that we shouldn’t have and he never really got in good groove.”
Williams (1-0) posted his first victory in the majors since Sept. 25, 2005, with the Chicago Cubs, after losing his previous eight decisions. He allowed a run and six hits over seven innings, struck out six and walked none. The only run off him came on Wieters’ leadoff homer in the seventh.
Williams, a first-round draft pick by San Francisco in 1999, hadn’t started a game in the majors since May 15, 2007, with the Washington Nationals. He began this season with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League before signing a free agent contract with the Angels on June 16. He spent last season playing in Taiwan after leading the Oakland Athletics as a free agent in December 2008.
The Orioles loaded the bases with none out in the fourth on singles by J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis, followed by Adam Jones’ infield hit, but Vladimir Guerrero struck out on a sinker. Williams then threw a changeup that Wieters hit on the ground to first baseman Trumbo, who fielded it in the hole before starting an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)