A middle-inning rally was enough to prevent the Orioles from suffering their second straight shutout defeat, but the wasted opportunities that came with it loomed large in a 3-1 loss Friday at Camden Yards to the streaking Oakland Athletics.
Baltimore’s best chance to end Oakland’s winning streak at 11 came in the sixth inning. As the A’s built a three-run lead against Jorge López, left-handed starter Cole Irvin kept the Orioles scoreless over the first five innings, but three straight singles by Trey Mancini, Maikel Franco and DJ Stewart loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth. After Irvin struck out Ryan Mountcastle, Pedro Severino lined a single to left to produce the Orioles’ first run in 16 innings and end Irvin’s outing.
Oakland turned to reliever Yusmeiro Petit, whose first pitch produced a Freddy Galvis pop-up. Two pitches later, Ramón Urías grounded out, quickly ending the Orioles’ greatest threat after four hits but with only one run.
“We just didn’t get the big hit,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We’ve got to move the ball with runners in scoring position. We’re punching out too often.”
The Orioles also created a scoring chance in the fourth. After Stewart beat out the back half of a potential double play to keep the inning going, Mountcastle singled into center to end an 0-for-21 skid, with center fielder Ramón Laureano’s error allowing both runners to move into scoring position. But Irvin stranded them by striking out Severino.
That followed a first inning in which Cedric Mullins led off with a hustle double on a grounder up the middle and got to third base with one out only to end the inning there. Mullins added a single off Irvin in the fifth to improve to 10-for-24 against lefties after abandoning switch-hitting in the offseason.
The defeat, coming in the first game of Baltimore’s second homestand, dropped the Orioles to 1-7 at Camden Yards, as well as 1-6 when facing a left-handed starting pitcher.
“We’re just in a little bit of a funk to start this year,” Hyde said. “Hopefully we’ll snap out of it.”
López’s tendency through three starts was to be effective early only to struggle as opposing batters received another chance to face him. The A’s did not wait until the second time through to strike.
They opened the second inning by working consecutive full-count walks off López, who then tossed a wild pitch to allow both Mitch Moreland and Sean Murphy to move up. Seth Brown’s groundout produced the game’s first run, and Stephen Piscotty followed with an RBI single.
“It’s a really good team,” López said. “We all know how locked in they’ve been. Giving them 90 feet, as a starting pitcher, you have to understand the situation of not giving 90 feet just free, [especially] when the team is that hot.”
With Elvis Andrus’ single closing López’s first turn through Oakland’s order, the A’s managed to put five of their first nine batters on against him, more base runners than he had allowed the first time facing a lineup in his first three starts combined.
López held Oakland to one hit the second three, but Laureano, the first batter to face him a third time, hammered an 0-2 pitch in the bullpens in left-center field for a home run to lead off the fifth. That López curveball was one of nine he threw that the A’s swung at; they made contact on all of them.
“He got hurt on his curveball tonight,” Hyde said.
Hyde ended López’s night after the homer, the third time in four outings the 28-year-old right-hander took the mound for the fifth inning and failed to complete it.
“He’s got great stuff,” said Severino, who caught López and the four relievers behind him. “Today, for me, he was trying to just hit every spot just so perfect.”
What a relief
Although right-hander Cole Sulser struggled as the Orioles’ closer in 2020, he impressed Hyde enough initially to earn the role. Thus far in 2021, he’s shown why he made that impression.
After Travis Lakins Sr. and Dillon Tate delivered scoreless innings behind López, Sulser pitched seven-pitch seventh then struck out the side in the eighth, retiring all six A’s he faced. In four outings, Sulser has struck out 10 batters in 6 1/3 innings and has yet to walk a batter or allow a run.
Behind him, Shawn Armstrong pitched a perfect ninth with two strikeouts, an encouraging outing given his struggles to begin 2021.
“I was really impressed with our bullpen,” Hyde said. “I thought our guys threw great.”
He might rely on it again Saturday. After optioning rookie right-hander Dean Kremer because a pair of off-days meant they wouldn’t need a fifth starter, the Orioles elected to push left-hander John Means back a day and will require a starter for Saturday anyway. Hyde said before the game it could be a bullpen day or a spot starter, either from the current roster or the alternate site. He said after the game a decision hadn’t yet been made.
Saturday, 7 p.m.
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