WASHINGTON — One exhibition inning does not make a season, but the Orioles began Tuesday night’s 6-4, rain-shortened loss to the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park the way they hope to play going forward.
First, it was Austin Hays, the team’s most exciting rookie, lacing an emphatic leadoff single. On the next pitch, Hanser Alberto left no doubt on an RBI double to the right-center field wall off Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin, showing the singles hitter who owned lefties last year has grown into some power this summer.
Alberto then created a run on a chopper to shortstop by Anthony Santander. He waited for the throw across the diamond, then broke for third uncontested to get 90 feet closer to home for the heart of the Orioles’ order.
Renato Núñez struck out, but being on third meant Alberto scored easily on an infield single to deep shortstop by newcomer José Iglesias. Iglesias put the ball in play with two outs and a runner on third in the kind of at-bat manager Brandon Hyde was likely envisioning before the game.
By the time first baseman Chris Davis grounded out to end the inning, the Orioles showcased just enough of what their offense could look like sans the traded Jonathan Villar and the dearly missed Trey Mancini, who is in the middle of treatment for stage 3 colon cancer.
Hyde referred to last year’s offense as “a fun offense to watch.” Replicating innings like the first a few times every night for the next two-plus month can make them consistently so.
“I like us offensively,” he said after the game. “I think that we can surprise some people. ... We’ve got a couple young guys that are going to hit and get a lot of at-bats that I think have really bright futures in Hays and Santander. You throw in Iglesias in there, that continues to take professional at-bats and continued to swing the bat well tonight. [Pedro] Severino just missed a couple balls, he’s coming into his own offensively. I like where we are offensively. I heard a lot last year in the second half about how our guys were getting tough to pitch to, and our guys were taking some good at-bats, and you guys score runs and are not easy to pitch against.
“I think we’re going to pick up where we left off and really compete offensively in this two-month season.”
Outside of the top of the order, though, the Orioles offense wasn’t able to muster much the rest of the way. Hays had another hard-hit single in the fifth inning, but was thrown out trying to go first-to-third with two outs to end the inning. Iglesias notched his second straight three-hit night.
The Orioles offense came back alive in the seventh inning when Davis doubled and scored on a triple by Dilson Herrera. Herrera scored on a sacrifice fly by Rio Ruiz. The game was called entering the top of the eighth as rain continued to move through the Washington area.
Stewart settles in
Hyde wanted right-hander Kohl Stewart, the team’s only major league free-agent pitcher signed this offseason, to pitch four healthy innings and throw a lot of strikes.
Stewart didn’t do that after a two-hit, two-run first inning that lasted 30 pitches and ended when he reached his pitch count. But he settled in to pitch into the fourth inning, ending with three strikeouts and a pair of walks.
Stewart said he was too fine and tried to be on the corners too much in the first inning, and vowed to be more aggressive going forward.
“I think I’ve got to attack more guys,” Stewart said. “I’ve got to get ahead of more guys. That’s obviously easier said than done sometimes, but that’s one thing I’ve really got to take from this. I’ve got to go. I’ve got to get going. … If they’re going to beat me, they’re going to beat me earlier in counts.”
Hyde said he wants Stewart to pitch to the white part of the plate because his pitches move so much that they won’t often be hit hard.
“The second and third inning were outstanding,” he said. “The first and fourth innings were a little shaky from a command standpoint.”
Cesar Valdez, the 35-year-old nonroster reliever signed out of the Mexican League, followed Stewart with 2⅔ innings of two-run ball in a possible display of what he could look like in a long relief role.
Friday, 7:30 p.m.
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