TORONTO — Orioles reliever Darren O'Day reached the 500-inning milestone with a scoreless frame in Sunday's 8-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, but the veteran right-hander was more proud that the mark was accompanied by his 500th strikeout in the same sequence.
Earlier in O'Day's career, he wasn't known as much for being a strikeout pitcher, but a spike in his strikeout numbers helped him become a dependable setup man for the Orioles, and in his six seasons with the Orioles he's averaged 1.1 strikeouts per inning. And even as he's dealt with injuries over the past two seasons — he was limited to 31 innings last season and just returned from a DL stint Friday — his strikeout numbers continued to improve. Over the past three seasons, O'Day is averaging 1.17 strikeouts per inning.
"For me, I'm not huge on milestones, but for some reason the No. 500 meant a lot to me because I never really fathomed I'd pitch that many innings and get that many strikeouts just because I was never really a guy who was a can't-miss guy," O'Day said. "And the fact that I got 500 innings and strikeouts on the same day is pretty cool. It means a lot to me because it was a goal of mine a few years ago to try to have a strikeout-to-inning ratio above 1.0 before I retired because late in my career I figured out I could strike guys out and that's an important skill to have at the end of games."
In O'Day's six years with the Orioles, his strikeout rate is 27.7 percent, which ranked 11th in the majors among relievers over that span, according to Baseball Reference.
"When I thought I could strike out a guy per inning [about three or four years ago], I thought that was pretty cool to have because that's kind of the ratio relievers want," O'Day said. "Obviously guys have gone way past that now, and it's kind of silly because there are plenty of ways to get an out, but it helps to get out of some jams and stuff."
O'Day said he had been reminded he was reaching both milestones, but didn't take notice in his scoreless seventh inning Sunday. He was curious, however, why catcher Caleb Joseph saved the ball after O'Day struck out Steven Souza Jr. on the first batter he faced.
"I kept forgetting and even after the strikeout I was wondering why Caleb was taking the ball out of play," O'Day said. "I didn't even realize it until he said something to me in the dugout, so thanks to him for remembering it. When you're playing, you're trying to focus on the small [things], the micro stuff, just making your next pitch. You don't focus on the macro stuff."
Sunday's outing was O'Day's second since returning from the disabled list. Each time he pitched a scoreless inning against Tampa Bay.
"Luckily it was a quick DL stint," O'Day said. "I felt good with where I was at before I went on the DL. My delivery was in a good place. I was attacking hitters. That's why I was able to come back quickly because I liked where I was at when I was on the mound, so, yeah, I feel pretty good. I haven't had to throw two innings or throw a bunch of pitches yet, but I'm sure that will come. Just glad to be back and doing my part to help us get some more wins."
Britton remains on schedule: The reports on left-hander Zach Britton's fourth minor-league rehabilitation outing painted a continuously encouraging picture that the Orioles closer will be ready for his scheduled July 5 return from the disabled list, manager Buck Showalter said.
After throwing one inning for Double-A Bowie on Monday night — allowing one run on two hits in the eighth inning of a 2-1 Baysox win — Britton will face another significant test in his recovery by throwing on back-to-back days in his next two outings.
Britton will pitch Thursday at Bowie, then Friday night at High-A Frederick, then take two days off before completing his minor league rehab assignment with an outing with Triple-A Norfolk on Monday night.
Around the horn: Rule 5 draft pick Anthony Santander, an outfielder who has been on the disabled list all season with a right forearm strain, has resumed throwing in Sarasota, Fla., Showalter said. … Utility player Ryan Flaherty still hasn't resumed throwing after a throwing program setback in his recovery from a right shoulder strain. … Minor league infielder Jesus Montero, who played just 13 games for Norfolk after serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned stimulant, was released from his contract Tuesday. Montero, a former top prospect of the New York Yankees, hit just .143/.176/.163 in 51 plate appearances with the Tides. … Outfielder Mike Yastrzemski was sent from Norfolk to Bowie on Tuesday. Yastrzemski returned in early May from offseason core and hip labrum surgeries and hit just .228/.317/.378 in 41 games at Norfolk.