CARLSBAD — The margin of error between the minor and major leagues is hundreds of feet.
Carlsbad native and Orioles starting pitcher Tom Eshelman discovered it the hard way, and in the first inning of his homecoming start against San Diego, as the Orioles pitcher allowed two solo home runs to Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado. Wil Myers added an RBI single later in the first to give the Padres a 3-0 lead, but Baltimore rallied to nab an 8-5 win on July 30 at Petco Park.
Eshelman (0-2) earned a no decision and over four innings allowed four runs, seven hits and struck out five in his fourth Major League Baseball start.
Still, with dozens, perhaps more, friends and family in attendance and being back in San Diego it was an experience Eshelman is not soon to forget.
“It was special to be able to pitch in the stadium,” he said. “It was something I dreamt my entire life of doing and today was surreal for me. It wasn’t the way I wanted it to go, the first inning, but I got back into the dugout, took a deep breath and got back out there.”
The 25-year-old Carlsbad High School alum found himself in a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the third inning after shortstop Richie Martin couldn’t cleanly get to a ball deep in the hole to get Machado at third base. Eshelman forced another ground ball to second baseman Jonathan Villar, but Martin was late on the throw to get Francisco Mejia at first base and Machado scored for a 4-0 Padres lead.
However, the Orioles rallied to tie the game at 5 in the seventh inning on a two-run single by Renato Nunez. It also took Eshelman off the hook for a decision.
The Orioles piled on three more runs in the eighth inning thanks to a homer by Chris Davis and a two-run single from Trey Mancini to take an 8-5 lead.
“I thought he battled and he didn’t want to come out of the game,” Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde said of Eshelman. “He had a rough first, and I just didn’t want him to face those guys the third time through (the lineup). I like the way he competes, and he kept us in the game and minimized damage.”
In his last outing in Anaheim, a relief appearance, Eshelman went 4.1 innings allowing four hits, one run (earned) with two strikeouts, including one against arguably the game’s best player, Mike Trout.
Since his July 1 call-up, Eshelman is 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA in five appearances over 22.2 innings. He also has 17 strikeouts, including a season-high seven against Tampa on July 14, and just seven walks.
Although he is 0-2, the Orioles are 2-2 when Eshelman starts. And while the learning curve has been steep, the right-hander is learning how to adjust to big-league hitters.
Eshelman doesn’t blow opposing hitters away with his velocity, as he tops out in the high 80s with his fastball. So, location, changing speeds and movement are keys to his success.
However, Eshelman has allowed two or more home runs in each of his last three starts.
“We were working on my direction this week, leading up to this start,” he said. “I got back to getting on top of the ball and keeping it down. The game is different up here for sure and you got some guys who understand what they’re doing hitting-wise. I just need to grow a little more, have an idea of where to pitch and to miss, opposed to throwing a strike with it.”
Photo Caption: Baltimore Orioles coach Doug Brocail speaks with Carlsbad native and starting pitcher Tom Eshelman after the first inning of the Orioles 8-5 win over the San Diego Padres on July 30 at Petco Park. Photo by Steve Puterski