Before managing what could perhaps be one of Major League Baseball’s final seven-inning doubleheaders, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde expressed an appreciation for the shortened games introduced amid the coronavirus pandemic. For a team like Baltimore, the benefits appeared in Saturday’s opener with the Toronto Blue Jays: When starting pitcher Dean Kremer lasted four innings in his return to the majors, the bullpen had to hold a lead for only three innings instead of five.
But that wasn’t enough to stop the slugging Blue Jays from rallying for four runs in the top of the seventh against Orioles closer Tyler Wells for an 11-10 victory to open the doubleheader. Four Orioles home runs, including two from Austin Hays, were not enough, and Baltimore (46-95) leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth loomed large.
“Tyler Wells is not going to be perfect,” Hyde said. “This is his rookie year. He’s facing some really good hitters.”
Wells had rocketed to the back of the Orioles’ bullpen after being their second pick in the offseason’s Rule 5 draft. Over his past 25 outings, he had only been scored on in three of them. Two of those came against the Blue Jays, who added another such appearance Saturday.
Wells recorded the final out of the sixth and was going for his first career four-out save. A narrowly fair double and, as Hyde put it, an “uncharacteristic” walk opened the seventh, with the latter being only the third Wells has issued in 32 innings since the start of June. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who hit the first of Toronto’s four home runs, singled in a run to end Wells’ 11-outing scoreless streak. Jake Lamb’s sacrifice fly made it a one-run game, and George Springer reversed the score with a two-run shot, the first home run off Wells in exactly two months.
“It’s a good team, loaded offense and Wellsy’s not gonna be perfect,” Hyde said. “Just wasn’t his night tonight.”
Lamb’s bases-loaded single off Marcos Diplán in the fifth cut Baltimore’s lead to 10-7, but Dillon Tate stranded two of Diplán’s runners in recording three outs to get the game to Wells. Diplán was optioned to Triple-A between games to add Spenser Watkins as a long-relief option for Game 2.
Hays, batting leadoff with All-Star Cedric Mullins out of the lineup for the day’s early game, narrowly missed an infield single in his first at-bat but left nothing up to chance in his next two, with his pair of home runs extending his career-high hitting streak to 17 games.
Hays entered the nightcap with an OPS near 1.000 over the past three Septembers, and 12 of his 27 career home runs have come in that month. He nearly added another in the ninth, but center field Jarrod Dyson tracked down his 102.5 mph drive to right-center field at the warning track.
“More times than not, that ball’s a double or triple, but Dyson’s got exceptional speed and been a good outfielder for a long time,” Hyde said. “But [Hays has been] driving the ball that way, driving two balls to the pull side. Haysy’s got extremely quick hands, and he’s strong. It seems like he’s staying through the baseball really well these past couple weeks.”
Hays’ first home run came in the second inning after Anthony Santander and Gurriel exchanged two-run home runs over the previous half-innings and Richie Martin regained the lead with a run-scoring groundout. Hays again extended Baltimore’s advantage with a solo shot to open the fourth, and Ryan Mountcastle went back-to-back with his 27th home run to tie Eddie Murray for the second most by a rookie in Orioles history, leaving him one behind Cal Ripken Jr.’s record set in 1982.
The consecutive home runs came off Ross Stripling, who entered after Baltimore chased starter Hyun Jin Ryu with one out in the third on Ryan McKenna’s bases-loaded double. Santander, Ramón Urías and Pedro Severino followed the homers with three straight singles off Stripling to push the Orioles’ lead to 10-5.
Added to the roster as Baltimore’s 29th man for the doubleheader, Kremer made his third straight start in the majors against Toronto. It had been two months since the previous one.
Saturday marked Kremer’s first outing for Baltimore since June 24, when he walked five Blue Jays and allowed a grand slam while recording one out. Afterward, the Orioles optioned him to Triple-A for what they hoped would be an extended reset to rediscover his command. He returned by allowing five runs on three home runs over four innings, though he walked only one.
“If I recall correctly, my last time here was a complete meltdown, so definitely trending in the right direction,” Kremer said. “Going down there, I got the chance to clear my head and kind of, like, back off a little bit, kind of ease the pressure I put on myself, and then got back to really focusing on what makes me good, and then try to build off that.”
Kremer’s strike percentage was greatly improved in recent outings with Norfolk, but Saturday, it was the pitches in the zone that hurt him. Six of the seven hits he allowed went for extra bases, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s third-inning solo shot for his 43rd of the season. Kremer pitched into the fourth yet to issue a walk, but that ended with six straight balls, a streak snapped on Danny Jansen’s two-run home run.
Of Kremer’s 66 pitches, 41 were strikes, and 54 were either a four-seam fastball or a cutter, according to Statcast.
“I thought he showed flashes of being pretty good,” Hyde said. “Like I said, this is a really tough team to pitch against, and they have some young superstars, they got really good veteran players in the lineup that understand how to take an [at-bat] and are extremely dangerous. Only walked one, which was good. I thought he challenged hitters.
Latest Baltimore Orioles
“Hopefully, he can build on this and keep his confidence.”