Entering Friday, 92% of the Orioles’ games this year had been decided by four runs or fewer. Night in and night out, they have played close games, and night in and night out, they have often won.
In their series opener at Camden Yards against the AL West-leading Texas Rangers Friday night, though, the Orioles played by far their most lopsided game of the year. Former top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez allowed three home runs — including a fourth-inning grand slam to Rangers star shortstop Corey Seager — and eight earned runs as Baltimore fell, 12-2.
It was one-sided enough that Orioles outfielder Ryan McKenna pitched the ninth inning, the first time this year a position player has toed the rubber for Baltimore. Per a new MLB rule, teams are only allowed to pitch a position player when trailing by eight runs or more.
The largest margin in an Orioles game this season before Friday was a 6-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals earlier this month.
“I was trying to remember the last time, really, we didn’t feel like there was an opportunity [to come back],” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I couldn’t remember one.”
The Orioles — 33-18 and still with the second-best record in MLB — have stayed competitive in every game this year. Friday, the 51st of the season, was the first exception.
“There hasn’t been a real lopsided win or loss for a long, long time,” Hyde said. “Nights like tonight happen. We’ll flush it, come back tomorrow. It’s baseball. This happens. But I’ve been really pleased with how we’ve been so competitive so far.”
With an announced crowd of 20,293 witnessing the Orioles debut their all-black — albeit with a colorful interior — City Connect uniforms, Adley Rutschman gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead with a first-inning home run.
But in the next frame, Rodriguez allowed a two-run homer to Leody Taveras, and in a nightmarish fourth inning, the Rangers (32-18) piled it on. Josh Jung tripled on a ball misplayed by right fielder Anthony Santander, Josh Smith singled and Robbie Grossman homered.
Then the damage really began.
A walk, a hit and an error by usually sure-handed shortstop Jorge Mateo — who could have ended the inning by turning a double play — loaded the bases for Seager, one of the highest-paid players in baseball. Rodriguez left his first pitch, a cutter, in the middle of the zone and Seager tattooed it 437 feet to right-center field for the fate-sealing grand slam.
By the time another run crossed the plate, it was an eight-run barrage from the Rangers.
It was the second time in three days that the Orioles were involved in an eight-run inning, as Baltimore tallied as many against the New York Yankees in Wednesday’s win.
Friday marked the third start this month that Rodriguez has allowed at least six earned runs without completing the fourth inning. In 3 1/3 innings Friday, he gave up nine runs (eight earned) on 83 pitches. After posting a 4.07 ERA in five April starts, Rodriguez has had a rough time in his five May starts, recording an ERA of 11.14.
Rodriguez said Friday he might have turned to his fastball too much, or perhaps his cutter. His lack of consistency, he said, is “frustrating.”
“We know it’s there, just gotta go out and do better than that,” he said.
Hyde pointed to Rodriguez’s lack of command, noting that he issued two-out walks in the first and second innings and missed the target with some pitches.
“You have to be able to, even though your stuff’s good, you’ve got to be able to command the baseball. He’s just had a few appearances where he hasn’t been able to do that,” Hyde said.
Austin Voth pitched in relief, allowing one earned run in a season-high 3 2/3 innings. Cionel Pérez then pitched a scoreless eighth.
Meanwhile, Rangers right-hander Jon Gray continued his strong season by pitching seven innings of one-run ball, allowing four hits and striking out eight. The Orioles mounted a mini-comeback in the eighth against reliever John King as hits from Ryan O’Hearn, Rutschman and Terrin Vavra scored a run. After a single by Ryan Mountcastle, Ramón Urias — playing in his first game in weeks after a hamstring injury — batted with the bases loaded, but grounded out.
Rustchman was the Orioles’ brightest spot Friday. He’d struggled a bit recently, hitting .171 in his past 11 games, but put together a 3-for-3 day with a a walk.
In the ninth inning, Hyde opted to pitch McKenna rather than tire the arm of a relief pitcher. McKenna lofted in much-slower-than-batting-practice pitches to the Rangers, with some of his offerings registering as low as 34 mph. He allowed two runs in the final frame before inducing an inning-ending double play, much to the crowd’s delight.
Orioles debut City Connect uniforms
The Orioles played for the first time Friday in their City Connect uniforms, which have been met with mixed reviews from fans.
Ahead of the game, relief pitcher Bryan Baker described the uniforms, which are all-black but have a colorfully patterned interior, as “right up my alley” since he likes to keep things simple.
“They have just the right amount of pizzazz, I guess,” he said. “A little bit of flair. I think they look sharp.”
First baseman Ryan Mountcastle noted that the black uniforms made it easy to match and Gunnar Henderson, an Alabama native, likened the interior to camouflage. “I’m from the South, so I like my camo,” he said.
The Orioles will again wear the uniforms Saturday and each home Friday game this season.
Ramón Urias returns
Urias (hamstring) was reinstated off the IL ahead of Friday’s game and entered the lineup at second base in the eighth inning, his first appearance since May 8. To make room on the roster, infielder Joey Ortiz was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.
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Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Friday that Ortiz did “nothing to deserve” being sent down.
“He came up and helped us win a bunch of games both times and he’s gonna do it again,” Elias said. “He looks like he fits in the major leagues.”
Mullins back in lineup
Cedric Mullins batted leadoff Friday after missing Thursday’s game because of personal reasons, Hyde said. It marked the first absence of the season for Mullins, who has an OPS of .847 this season.
Rangers at Orioles
Saturday, 4:05 p.m.
TV: MASN2, MLB Network
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM