Somewhere in the last week, the Orioles went from sending rookie starter Dean Kremer to the minors because they didn’t need a fifth to pushing back everyone in the rotation and giving Wade LeBlanc a spot start Saturday.
A bullpen game was a solution to a problem that didn’t exist, and the result was a 7-2 loss to the streaking Oakland Athletics before an announced 7,616 fans at Camden Yards. LeBlanc, rookie Tyler Wells, and an Orioles bullpen that the team hopes to protect as much as possible this season had to cover a full game that they never seemed likely to win against the A’s, who won their 13th straight game.
LeBlanc, who has worked in short relief this season, pitched to contact and had to live with the consequences: a run on three hits in the first inning, and three runs on a walk and three hits in the second before Wells relieved him.
Hyde blamed the team’s defense for not making the first inning smooth, though he said that the second was challenging for LeBlanc.
“I think if the first inning went a little cleaner, a little different story,” Hyde said.
Wells, a Rule 5 pick from the Minnesota Twins, kept the game close until the fourth inning, when he put two runners on and had them come around to score on a towering home run by Jed Lowrie before recording an out to create a 7-1 deficit.
Only a heroic pitching effort would have made a difference considering the Orioles’ offense is in one of its free-swinging spirals and not scoring much. That only came after it was too late.
Kremer, to be fair, has struggled so far this season. When the Orioles optioned him after his April 17 start in Texas, manager Brandon Hyde made it clear that it was because they wouldn’t need a fifth starter on the current turn through the rotation with days off Monday and Thursday around a two-game series against Miami.
Under that plan, the Orioles could have stayed on turn and not needed a fifth starter until Kremer was eligible to return after his 10-day option to the minors was up Wednesday and the Orioles could have gotten by with four starters.
Instead, Jorge López pitched Friday and Means got two extra days of rest, necessitating Saturday’s spot start for LeBlanc.
“Long season,” Hyde said before the game, noting that they’d give Means and the rest of the pitchers extra rest when they could.
It’s unlucky that Keegan Akin, who was meant to be in the rotation entering spring training but struggled in Florida and is currently at the alternate site in Bowie, couldn’t make the start. Hyde said he was in consideration to do so, but got stitches in his left index finger after cutting himself with a knife after breakfast recently. He’ll be out around two weeks as that heals.
Still, they could have avoided a position to need luck. They’re well within their rights to ease their pitchers into the season and steal a few extra days from them where they can. Means is their best and most valuable pitcher at this point, and the rebuilding Orioles have to balance wanting him on the mound as much as possible and keeping him healthy and at his best for as long as possible.
That will make for nights like Saturday, when like so much else when it comes to the Orioles that night’s loss is hand-waved away in the name of the long-term good that’s somewhere on the horizon.
Hyde said after the game that on a day like this, that’s what he’s doing during the game: trying to save the pitching staff for Sunday.
“Just start planning out tomorrow there when the game is kind of getting away from you there early,” Hyde said.
Zeros at the end
Once the game was out of reach, there was some more impressive relief from a group of relievers the team will call on a lot this year. Shawn Armstrong continued his resurgence by finishing the fourth for Wells and pitching a scoreless fifth.
Adam Plutko retired the side in the sixth, and Dillon Tate needed just 19 pitches for six outs in the seventh and eighth. Tanner Scott worked a scoreless ninth.
None of that group allowed a hit.
Leave them wanting more
The Orioles scored in the second inning when Pedro Severino doubled and scored on a ground ball double from Chance Sisco that caromed up off first base and over Matt Olson’s head at the foul line, and on a double by Trey Mancini in the fifth inning.
In each case, they could have had more but didn’t. Sisco was thrown out trying to take third on a ball in the dirt with Mancini at the plate for the third out of the second inning, and after Mancini’s sixth-inning double put two in scoring position with one out, the next two batters flew out to leave them there.
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
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