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Jorge López struggles in fifth inning again, Orioles drop series opener to Nationals, 4-2

Orioles right-hander Jorge López was an out away from a perfect fifth inning against the top third of the Washington Nationals’ order. Then, history repeated itself.

As it has been throughout this season, the fifth inning remained López’s greatest weakness Friday night, with the Nationals striking for four straight two-out hits to break a scoreless tie and propel them to a 4-2 victory in the series opener at their home park. López has pitched effectively into the fifth inning in eight of his nine starts but has recorded only 13 outs in that frame while allowing 13 earned runs, posting a 27.00 ERA. Otherwise, he has a 2.60 mark.

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“As a pitcher, you just want to go as far as you can,” he said. “I’ve been talking about getting to the seventh, sixth, getting those quality games. Today, I feel like there was a lot of positive things, even though I couldn’t get through to the sixth.”

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde had the opportunity to keep López from facing his nemesis. With the game played under National League rules, López came to bat with two outs and two on in the top of the fifth in a scoreless game, chasing consecutive pitches to strike out in Baltimore’s best scoring opportunity against Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg. But Hyde has said repeatedly in recent days that the club’s starting pitchers failing to work deep into games has led to a “beaten up” bullpen, leaving him unable to afford pulling a starter who had pitched four scoreless innings on 66 pitches.

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“Not much a decision the way our bullpen was tonight,” Hyde said. “Got four shutout innings. I know he’s had trouble in the middle part of the game. I was trying to push him there. For me, we just didn’t have many innings out of the bullpen tonight. He needed to go back out.”

López needed only eight more pitches to retire Trea Turner and Juan Soto, two of NL’s top hitters, but by 10, he was down 1-0 thanks to doubles on back-to-back pitches by Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber. After Starlin Castro’s infield single, Josh Harrison found outfield grass to make it 2-0.

“I thought he still had really good stuff through the fifth,” Hyde said. “I wanted him to go back out there for the sixth there, to be honest with you.”

Instead, Soto added an RBI single against rookie Tyler Wells in the sixth, while Bell had one off the Shawn Armstrong in the eighth as the Orioles (17-27) lost for the 11th time in 13 games.

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Santander returns

In a matchup of two players freshly off the injured list, Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander got the best of Strasburg in the second inning, singling in his first at-bat since spraining his left ankle April 20.

But it was the only hit the Orioles managed against Strasburg in his 5 ⅓ innings as the right-hander made his first start since April 13 after going on the IL with right shoulder inflammation.

Missed opportunity

Strasburg exited to a large ovation from the 14,369 in attendance after walking Austin Hays with one out in the sixth. The Orioles almost immediately took advantage, then just as quickly had that hope evaporate.

Trey Mancini continued his May tear with a double into right field off Kyle Finnegan. With one out, Hays initially slowed rounding third when he got a stop sign from third base coach Tony Mansolino, but when Soto’s throw into the infield went over second baseman Josh Harrison, Hays headed home. Bell, the first baseman, fielded the ball behind Harrison and threw across his body off one foot to catcher Yan Gomes to get Hays at the plate.

“When I saw the ball go over the cutoff guy’s head, it looked like it was rolling for the infield, and that was my initial read, so I took off to score, thinking that was a loose ball,” Hays said. “I was about halfway down the line when I saw Bell field it and I realized it was a bad read.

“I wish I could have that one back.”

Even with the Orioles lineup struggling to score, Hyde said Hays’ choice to break for home wasn’t ideal when they could’ve had two in scoring position with one out for the middle of the order.

“I kind of understand from my angle, he hits the base, he turns, finds the ball — that’s proper baserunning,” Hyde said. “He sees a high throw. He sees space in between the first cut and Bell and he decided to go for it, so I’m sure he would have liked to stay at third there now looking back.”

Santander struck out to end the inning with Mancini at second in what was one of Baltimore’s two at-bats with a runner in scoring position through eight innings. López had the other.

Mancini doubled again in the ninth to prevent the Orioles from being held to two hits for the second straight night, then Freddy Galvis homered him home for their lone runs.

“We need to score some runs,” Hyde said. “It’s a little bit challenging when we didn’t score until the ninth.”

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