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Pat Valaika homers twice, bullpen dominates behind Jorge López to lift Orioles to 6-1 win over Nationals

Brandon Hyde’s Orioles had only just pulled ahead, narrowly, when decision-time arrived.

Andrew Stevenson was on third base for the Washington Nationals with two outs and slugger Juan Soto coming up to face Jorge López in the always-eventful fifth inning for the Orioles starting pitcher.

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Instead of tempt fate with López, Hyde called on reliever Paul Fry, who needed just one pitch for Soto to chop a grounder to third. From there, the Orioles bullpen featuring Fry and Tanner Scott held and their lead built to an eventual 6-1 win over the Nationals before an announced 17,022 on Friday night at Camden Yards.

“Both those left-handers did a really nice job,” Hyde said. “Won us the game.”

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Managing the Orioles (32-64) on this march to 100 losses means sometimes following your gut in moments like that, and other times following the data, and the erratic results that come from an erratic bullpen make it hard to judge whether those calls were correct. Other times, Hyde’s just trying to keep the pitching staff intact.

Fresh from Thursday’s day off and with another looming Monday, Hyde had the opportunity to be aggressive with his bullpen usage Friday and was rewarded for it.

Fry struck out all three Nationals he faced in the sixth inning to continue his spell of success outside of the ninth, and after Cole Sulser put two on in the seventh, Scott got a quick out to end it before striking out two in a scoreless eighth.

“It’s nice to see Tanner come in and after kind of a tough inning couple days ago and face a really tough middle of the order and go an inning and a third and punch out two of them,” Hyde said. “So it’s nice to see him bounce back the way he did. Tanner’s got under a 3 ERA, so he’s done a lot of things right, only threw 15 pitches and getting four outs.

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“Paul Fry, 20 pitches, getting four outs, so the bottom line for both those guys is working ahead because they have put-away stuff. They have sliders that they can put guys away with, and they did that tonight.”

Dillon Tate’s perfect ninth inning came under much less stressful circumstances than it could have thanks to Pat Valaika, who entered the game with two home runs this season before hitting one in the fifth and one in the seventh to build the lead.

“They were nails,” Valaika said of the bullpen. “Lopey did really good, and then our bullpen was just lights out, so it was nice to extend the lead a little bit and not have too many pressure innings or anything. The bullpen did a tremendous job.”

In between Valaika’s home runs, Ramón Urías scored Trey Mancini on a fielder’s choice and came around himself on a sacrifice fly by Pedro Severino.

The Orioles’ scoring began in the fourth inning when, after López allowed a solo home run to Josh Bell, Cedric Mullins doubled for the Orioles’ first hit off starter Patrick Corbin and scored on a double by Austin Hays and Urías singled to score Hays with two outs.

López allowed a run on four hits with three walks and two strikeouts in 4 ⅔ innings.

Pat the Bat

Valaika had just one home run entering Wednesday’s game against Tampa Bay before adding a second that day, then his two Friday represented a miniature breakout in a season he admitted this week was a grind.

“It’s nice to see a smile on Pat’s face ’cause you can tell he’s been grinding for a while,” Hyde said. “He’s hasn’t got the results. He’s putting so much work in in the cage. The guys works his tail off to improve.”

Said Valaika: “I think tonight I just squared those balls up better than I have pretty much this whole year. It felt good to drive a ball and not have it die on the track. Hopefully, I just continue that and kind of keep it rolling.”

No updates on COVID list

Hyde said Friday that the COVID-19 protocol-related issue that landed outfielder Anthony Santander and left-hander Keegan Akin on the injured list Wednesday has not impacted anyone else with the team, and he hopes both players can return in the middle of next week.

Hyde said the players did not remain in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the team was Wednesday, but did not say where they went.

Around the horn

>> Rookie right-hander Tyler Wells was placed on the 10-day injured list before Friday’s game, retroactive to July 20, with right wrist tendinitis. Hyde said after the game that the Orioles hoped he wouldn’t be out long, and that he’d be replaced with a pitcher on the roster Saturday.

>> Third baseman Maikel Franco was activated from the injured list and restored to the starting lineup Friday after missing all of July with a sprained ankle. He took the roster spot vacated when Kelvin Gutiérrez was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday.

>> The Orioles shuffled their rotation with Matt Harvey starting Saturday, John Means pitching Sunday, and Spenser Watkins pushed to Tuesday’s series opener against the Miami Marlins.

NATIONALS@ORIOLES

Saturday, 6:35 p.m.

TV: MASN, MASN2 Radio: 105.7 FM

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