For as many hard-hit outs as Orioles rookie Ryan Mountcastle had early this year, perhaps Friday’s go-ahead home run was the greatest sign that his luck is turning around.
Mountcastle’s wall-scraper was more like a face-scraper as it hit a spectator after eluding the leaping Eddie Rosario and a few outstretched fans’ arms, but just as he gave it enough juice to get out of the ballpark, it gave the Orioles just enough for a 3-1 win over Cleveland Friday.
It took a replay review to confirm that the home run stood.
“I was a little nervous it wouldn’t stand, but I was pretty pumped about it,” Mountcastle said.
He wasn’t alone. A crowd of 12,009, the largest of the season so far at Camden Yards, made the park as loud as it’s been all season for Mountcastle’s home run, which gave the Orioles a third straight win since they snapped their 14-game losing streak.
That home run, which came in the seventh inning with a runner on first base after a walk and a fielder’s choice, was just the Orioles’ second hit of the game after a DJ Stewart double in the second inning. After two wins that preceded this one came thanks to top-to-bottom offensive production, they were quiet top-to-bottom until late Friday.
Rookie starter Keegan Akin afforded them the luxury of not hitting much and also not losing with an unassuming but unimpeachable start: He struck out four and walked one while allowing three hits in five shutout innings.
The Orioles fell behind in the sixth when Hunter Harvey’s season debut was spoiled by a run-scoring triple by Harold Ramirez. But that was all Cleveland managed before Mountcastle, who entered the season as a Rookie of the Year candidate but endured a miserable April, continued his hot streak.
“It’s really good to see him kind of get that confidence back and get that swagger back in the box,” Akin said. “The last couple games, he’s starting to turn it around a little bit and get those big hits.”
Mountcastle, who now has four home runs in his past 10 games while batting .314 in that span, had a chance to expand the lead after Anthony Santander’s sacrifice fly scored a third Orioles run in the eighth inning but grounded into an inning-ending double play.
He feels like he’s on the other side of those early-season struggles.
“I hope to be,” Mountcastle said. “You never know with this game, it’s so hard. As of right now, I’m feeling pretty good. I’m going to try to keep it rolling.”
Manager Brandon Hyde said he saw both how Mountcastle has turned it around and what still needs to be improved Friday.
“Tonight the homer is on a slider. … That means for me when he’s pulling off-speed and staying through the middle of the field on heaters then he’s keeping his eyes in the zone and not trying to do too much,” Hyde said. “For me that last at-bat he tried to do a little too much, big spot, that’s when he kind of came off the ball a little bit and hit a ground ball to the third baseman.
“When he’s really got a nice, middle-of-the-field approach and he catches one out in front on an off-speed pitch, it shows you the kind of power he has. It’s just being a little more consistent approach-wise for me. It’s not his swing, it’s more of his approach and just continuing to stay on the baseball.”
That tack-on run Santander gave proved to be enough, though, with Cole Sulser, Tanner Scott and Paul Fry each following Harvey with a scoreless inning of relief.
Harvey into the fire
Hyde said before the game that he planned to use Harvey as a normal reliever without any restrictions after his spring training oblique injury, which was the latest thing to keep him off the mound in a career that’s been defined by injuries to his arm and elsewhere.
Harvey, for his part, supports the approach of just letting him pitch. The 2013 first-round pick had just 17 major league appearances over two seasons before Friday.
“They’ve just been cautious with me in the past with how my arm has been and all the injuries I’ve had,” Harvey said. “But like Hyde said, I’m not getting any younger. There’s no point in waiting around. We’ve got to go. It’s time to go. There’s just not enough time to keep babying it every year.”
Harvey allowed a one-out single to José Ramirez, who scored on a triple by Harold Ramirez before Harvey got a strikeout to end his inning of work.
Hyde said: “I know he gave up a run, but he showed really good stuff — upper-90s fastball with hop. He threw a nice curveball in there, a nice slider, one pitch to Ramirez after a through-the-shift kind of bad-luck single, to put a runner on first base there, they came back after giving up the double and got a nice punch-out, 98 [mph] on the corner. Fun to have him, fun to watch him.”
More roster moves
A pair of Orioles pitchers — right-hander Shawn Armstrong and left-hander Brandon Waddell — were designated for assignment as part of a roster shuffle Friday. The Orioles needed one 40-man roster spot for Harvey and a second for Domingo Leyba, a 25-year-old infielder they claimed off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Leyba was assigned to Triple-A Norfolk.
Additionally, infielder Pat Valaika went on the bereavement list while infielder Ramón Urías and right-hander Travis Lakins Sr. were recalled from Triple-A Norfolk.
Hyde said it was tough moving on from Armstrong.
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“I just thought he got off to kind of an odd start,” Hyde said. “He missed the opening series, spring training got shut down a little early for him and just never got it going.”