The ball off Adley Rutschman’s bat rattled its way into the right field corner, allowing the catcher to cruise into second base with a double. That was as close as the Orioles would get to crossing home plate Tuesday night against the Washington Nationals.
The 24-year-old rookie became the first Baltimore hitter to reach scoring position, and it took until the seventh inning to do so. He would be the last, too. The Orioles managed just three hits to accompany Rutschman’s seventh double of the season, a flat effort against another losing ballclub that halts the momentum from a series win against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Right-hander Erick Fedde got away with several mistake pitches en route to his 3-0 win, weaving his way past the 26 pitches the Orioles fouled off him to post six scoreless innings. Baltimore (30-39), meanwhile, failed to back up right-hander Jordan Lyles in his best start in a month.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to build on the last start or two,” Lyles said, “and for us tomorrow to pick up the bats and try to split this series.”
So Rutschman was left at second base in the seventh inning, the lone offensive threat the Orioles produced. It wasn’t much. And it left them with a worse record against sub-.500 opponents this year than against winning teams.
“Tonight, collectively, we just didn’t do a whole lot offensively,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
Lyles buckles down
The Nationals (25-46) had ample opportunities to jump on Lyles early — a practice Washington manager Dave Martinez hoped to exploit, wanting to avoid Baltimore’s bullpen. But Lyles tight roped out of danger in the first and second innings, even after allowing doubles to three of the first six batters he faced.
A first-pitch fastball grooved down the middle to César Hernández soon turned into a leadoff double to the right field fence, and Nelson Cruz did what he’s done so frequently to the Orioles since he turned down their qualifying offer in 2014 to elect free agency — drive the baseball. Cruz hit an RBI double off Lyles, giving the Nationals all the run support they needed.
The 41-year-old slugger entered Tuesday with a 1.120 OPS against the Orioles since 2015, the second highest by a player with at least 150 plate appearances against them in that frame behind only Boston Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez, according to Baseball Reference.
And mere hours after Hyde commended his defense for making the routine plays at a higher clip than in previous years, an error from second baseman Rougned Odor helped bring home another run. Odor opened his hips to fire to shortstop Jorge Mateo at second to begin a potential inning-ending double play, but his wide throw resulted in Mateo’s foot leaving the bag. A run scored and the bases remained loaded.
After that, though, Lyles buckled down. He retired 15 of the last 18 batters he faced, completing six innings for the first time since May 23. Lyles missed his scheduled start Sunday with a stomach virus, but he said he said he “felt good enough to go out there and pitch, and came away with a quality start.”
After a shaky first two innings, Lyles allowed two runs on five hits in 6 1/3 with three walks and four strikeouts.
“A couple bad pitches here and there, but I felt like we did a good job staying in the game,” Lyles said. “Second inning, bases loaded. One of those situations could’ve got out of hand.”
The five starts between May 23 and Tuesday had been part of a skid in which he allowed a combined 20 earned runs in 26 1/3 innings, but Lyles built off his outing in Toronto. During that start, he felt his sinker command improved and coupled well with his slider.
On Tuesday, however, Lyles didn’t force as many swings-and-misses as he did against the Blue Jays, when he drew seven whiffs on his slider alone and 14 overall. The 31-year-old managed seven Tuesday, and his spin rate was markedly lower on four of his five offerings, according to Statcast. Lyles said his changeup was the lone breaking pitch that he “felt I could get back into counts with.”
But it was a return to something closer to what Lyles coins himself as — the innings eater capable of being a steady presence every fifth day.
As the only veteran presence in the starting rotation, right-hander Tyler Wells often jokes that Lyles is the dad of the group. So on Father’s Day, Wells brought Lyles a shirt with Lyles’ face on it that read: “Best dad ever.”
Lyles wasn’t there to “laugh with them,” with the stomach virus pushing his start back two days. But he pitched once again like the veteran in the group, finding his way after a tricky month. The lack of offense, however, left him with a loss.
Around the horn
Baltimore Orioles Insider
>> Infielder Ramón Urías’ recovery from a left oblique strain remains slow, although Hyde said he hopes Urías can swing a bat in the coming days.
>> First baseman Trey Mancini’s right hand is still sore, but the swelling has reduced, allowing him to be in the lineup Tuesday as the designated hitter. The swelling was still present on the inside of his hand, around the pinky and ring finger. Extra padding on his bat helped to prevent much pain.
>> Ravens rookie safety Kyle Hamilton, the No. 14 overall pick in the NFL draft, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to fellow Notre Dame product Mancini. A contingent of Ravens and Washington Commanders rookies also watched the game from a suite in left field.
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM