One of the many things this Orioles team has struggled with this season is making early leads stick, often allowing runs right after scoring.
But in the Orioles’ 2-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night, right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis’ “shutdown” fourth inning — coming after rookie DJ Stewart’s solo homer off the right-field foul pole in the bottom of the third — set the tempo in a low-scoring game the Orioles have more often lost this year.
After Yacabonis was perfect his first time through the Toronto order, he ran into trouble quickly in the fourth, allowing back-to-back singles to Billy McKinney and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to open the inning and walking Justin Smoak on six pitches to load the bases.
Kendrys Morales lifted a fly ball to right field that Adam Jones caught, then threw home to nail McKinney attempting to score. Jones’ throw — which was his first assist since shifting to right field — bounced once before reaching catcher Austin Wynns, who reached across the plate from the left-handed batter’s box to tag a sliding McKinney in time.
“I [asked Jones], ‘How was that angle, how did that feel?’ ” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He said, ‘That’s really the first one I’ve really had other than practice.’ But I thought Austin made a really good play, too. To say, ‘I’ve got to catch it and then see if I can beat him to the plate.’ It was a huge play. I thought Jimmy’s outing was as good, if not better, though.”
The play definitely gave Yacabonis a spark, providing him with two outs on one play.
“Awesome, awesome,” Yacabonis said. “Pumped me up. I thought Winnie’s pick was just as good as the throw. To get the pick and the tag on him with the throw, is great.”
Yacabonis hit Kevin Pillar with a pitch to load the bases again, then induced a first-pitch, inning-ending flyout from Aledmys Díaz.
"Jimmy did a great job right from the get-go,” Wynns said. “He definitely got in a little bind right there, but we managed to get out of it, which was huge, and everyone contributed. Everyone."
That frame completed a four-inning scoreless start, which Yacabonis received after a litany of injuries to the Orioles rotation. It was his first scoreless outing of more than 1 2/3 innings.
“I felt pretty comfortable for the first three innings and then the guy got on base,” Yacabonis said. “And I kind of rushed my mechanics a little bit in the fourth inning, kind of left some things arm-side. Some of those things I have to iron out and fine-tune.”
Wednesday marked Yacabonis’ first big league start since Game 1 of an Aug. 25 doubleheader against the Yankees, in which he allowed six runs over 3 1/3 innings. He made three relief appearances in September before Wednesday’s start, allowing five earned runs in 9 1/3 innings.
Yacabonis said that he’s struggled with men on base — opponents are hitting .314 against him with runners on — but getting out of Wednesday’s fourth inning, escaping two bases-loaded jams without allowing a run, provided a boost.
“A lot of the time when I get into the stretch, I’m a little too quick,” Yacabonis said. “My arm lags a little bit. Just trying to stay on top of the ball and ironing those mechanical issues out, fine-tuning things.”
Yacabonis, who has made four previous spot starts this season, said he was surprised to get another start this season, especially since he had already reached the 100-inning mark this season.
“I had a lot of innings,” Yacabonis said. “I was a little surprised, but I always want the ball. Regardless of whether I’m starting or in the ’pen, I’m going to want the ball.”
Yacabonis doesn’t know what the Orioles have in store for him, especially since he’s seen opportunities in the rotation and as a multiple-inning bullpen piece, but Wednesday offered his best of five big league starts.
“I think it’s something I’m going to have to discuss with the staff here,” he said, “what kind of role they want to put me in for next year, what kind of work I’m going to have to put in this offseason, to prepare for whether I’m going to be a long guy or middle relief or a starter next year. It’s kind of something that I’m going to have to discuss and draw up a plan with the guys that helped me improve this year.”