More often than not, the Orioles’ youth is a crutch used to explain away loss after loss.
But on Tuesday at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, their rookies were almost exclusively the reason they ended August with a comprehensive 4-2 win over the Blue Jays, snapping a four-game losing streak in the process.
“I’d say any win at this point feels good, with what we’ve been through with the losing streaks,” rookie left-hander Keegan Akin said. “But it’s good to see some young guys contribute and step up. We’re starting to play a little bit better ball.”
As his opposite number Hyun Jin Ryu was carrying a no-hit bid into the sixth inning against the Orioles (41-90), Akin was keeping things close. He stranded two in the second inning before a leadoff home run in the third by Danny Jansen but finished five innings, allowing just two hits while walking three and striking out five.
His efforts to keep Baltimore within striking distance gave some incentive to the Orioles bats to wake up, and they did so with two outs in the sixth. Mountcastle, who is charging into the season’s final month and making a legitimate case for American League Rookie of the Year consideration, doubled and came around to score on a single by Austin Hays. Hays and Anthony Santander, who walked, scored on a double by rookie Ramón Urías — who has been just as successful as Mountcastle, albeit in a limited role.
The next inning, rookie Jorge Mateo walked, took second when his speed forced an errant pickoff throw, and scored on a single by rookie Jahmai Jones.
“We got some big hits tonight in some big spots,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
The run Jones drove in restored their two-run lead after Jorge López allowed a home run to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the sixth inning in relief of Akin, and when Guerrero came up again in the seventh with two on and two out, Hyde summoned rookie reliever Tyler Wells.
He retired Guerrero on one pitch.
“I felt like that was the biggest spot in the game — Guerrrero up, two guys on, they had the meat of their order, guys that we’ve had trouble with this year,” Hyde said. “For me, Tyler Wells won us the game there getting Guerrero out in the seventh and pitching the eighth inning. Just a great job.”
And even on a day when he struck out three times, rookie left fielder Ryan McKenna helped Wells in the eighth by playing Teoscar Hernández’s line drive off the wall quickly and holding him to a single. That kept the force intact at second base, allowing the Orioles to turn a tricky ground ball up the middle one batter later into a second out of the inning.
Without it, Toronto may have mounted a rally. Instead, Wells got out of the inning cleanly. Cole Sulser pitched a perfect ninth for the save.
The win sends the Orioles into September with the players who will be under the closest scrutiny carrying good form. While there are only two extra roster spots starting Wednesday, the Orioles don’t need expanded rosters to bring up young players. They’ve been featured all year.
Throughout the rest of the season, they’ll be tested against teams that are fighting for postseason spots, giving them an immediate measurement of whether they can play at that level in the future.
“That’s a great way to evaluate a player at the major league level, the types of teams that we’re [playing],” Hyde said. “This division can only get you better. If you’re a competitor, you know where you stack up pretty quick because of the lineups that you face. And we’re going to face a ton of really good lineups the rest of the way, like we have been. It’s a good evaluation.”
Jones, whose run-scoring single came after a difficult first week with the Orioles, believes he and his fellow rookies are ready to show how they stack up.
“Every opportunity I get to step on that field, along with the other guys that are young, the rookies — any opportunity we get is an opportunity to prove ourselves and prove why we should be playing here. We’re all here, which means that we’re here for a reason,” Jones said. “We’ve just got to go out and play our game and prove that we’re meant to stick here. I think this next month is going to be a lot of fun, just to get my first taste of considerable time in the major leagues and not just that, but an opportunity to show why you should be an everyday guy, or a go-to guy in the bullpen, or a starter.”
Perspective for Mancini
Hyde gave Trey Mancini a day off Tuesday in Toronto amid what’s been a difficult few months for the team’s longest-tenured player. Mancini has a .694 OPS and four home runs since the All-Star break, but Hyde came to his defense and said just having Mancini back after he missed all of 2020 for treatment after being diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer was enough.
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“I think whatever Trey Mancini has given us this year, it’s an absolute bonus, from what he went through last year,” Hyde said. “I don’t think anybody had any understanding of what his year was going to be, so for him to be in the lineup 90-plus percent of the time is a credit to him and shows a lot about his character and how much he wants to be out there. But going through chemo for six months and then having — he hasn’t had a good couple months for him, and he’s putting so much pressure on himself right now, and he’s taking it extremely hard. And we have to constantly remind him what his world looked like a year ago. I’m giving him the day off today because he’s just so hard on himself and he feels like he needs to produce. I’m just happy to see him on a daily basis.”