ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — As the opt-out date of his minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians approached, Asher Wojciechowski and his wife, Alanna, began to contemplate what could be an ironic next step.
After not getting an opportunity with the major league club while spending the beginning of last season in the Orioles’ system, he wondered if the pitching-starved team might have more interest in him this time. So when Triple-A Columbus manager Tony Masolino told him during Sunday’s game at Louisville that he had been traded to Baltimore, Wojciechowski was in disbelief.
“I was like ‘Are you joking?’ ” Wojciechowski said. “I was literally talking to my wife about it a week ago. I had an opt-out coming up, not knowing what I was going to do. We both were thinking, ‘What if Baltimore wanted you back? Ah, that probably won’t happen.’ Sure enough it did.
“It’s just kind of crazy how things come full circle sometimes.”
Wojciechowski, 30, and Alanna drove the three hours from Louisville back to Columbus, packed up and flew to Tampa, getting in about 2 a.m. Monday. He spent the day on the team’s taxi squad and resting before starting for the Orioles in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday. For the second straight night, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde was tasked with a decision involving a new starter as his team faced a one-run deficit after the fifth inning.
On Monday, he pulled right-hander Tom Eshelman from his major league debut after 75 pitches, only to see the bullpen surrender a lead the Orioles captured in the top of the sixth. On Tuesday, Wojciechowski returned for the sixth inning in his first outing in the majors since September 2017, when he was a Cincinnati Red facing the Chicago Cubs, for whom Hyde was then the first base coach.
This time, the Rays built on their one-run lead against Wojciechowski (WOE-juh-HOW-ski) before adding on against Baltimore’s shaky bullpen in subsequent innings to claim the series.
“I loved his aggressiveness,” Hyde said. “I thought he showed a good fastball, a good, hard slider. I liked the way he pounded the zone and threw strikes. Good presence on the mound. Did a nice job keeping us in the game into the sixth inning.”
After deciding not to let Eshelman battle the Rays’ lineup a third time Monday, Hyde faced the same conundrum with Wojciechowski, but only one of the past five balls in play against him was hit harder than 78.5 mph. He also recorded six strikeouts in his outing, showing a putaway ability that Eshelman never did in failing to record a strikeout.
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So Wojciechowski returned for the sixth with no one warming up behind him. The frame began with a matchup against No. 2 hitter Brandon Lowe, who homered off Wojciechowski in the first and added an RBI single against him in the third after Chris Davis tied the game with his first home run since May 12 in the inning’s top half. Lowe fouled the at-bat’s first pitch off his lower right leg, getting checked on by the Rays’ medical staff but remaining in the game. With the Orioles shifting him to pull the ball to the right side, Lowe cued a 55.3 mph grounder through the left side for a leadoff single, hobbling to first, then exiting the game.
After Wojciechowski walked the next Ray, Paul Fry warmed in the bullpen. A wild pitch put both runners in scoring position, though they didn't advance on a grounder by Ji-Man Choi that could’ve been an inning-ending double play if not for the ball to the backstop. Avisaíl García followed with a hard single up the middle to score two, ending Wojciechowski’s night back in the majors.
Eshelman was optioned and Matt Wotherspoon was designated before the game to open roster space for Wojciechowski, who finished with four earned runs allowed in 5 1/3 innings. Hyde said he doesn’t expect a roster move ahead of Wednesday’s series finale, meaning Wojciechowski stays on the roster with, like many Orioles, a chance to prove he belongs.
“We’ve got 25 guys that are auditioning to be big leaguers,” Hyde said. “Everybody on the club is auditioning for their career.”
Wojciechowski’s opposing starter, All-Star Charlie Morton, was excellent. He struck out 12 Orioles in seven innings, with Davis’ homer the only of the four hits he allowed that did damage. The Orioles finished with 16 strikeouts, their most in a nine-inning game in 2019.
“It’s premier stuff,” Hyde said of Morton. “It’s upper 90s diving fastball that he can locate and a really good curveball and a really good cutter. He knows how to pitch and he’s got really good command. You can’t sit on one pitch in one spot, and he knows how to set up guys and he throws strikes. Tonight, we didn’t square many balls up. That’s why he’s an All-Star caliber pitcher, World Series champion.”
The Rays added a run each off Fry and Jimmy Yacabonis in the seventh. In the top half of the inning, the Orioles got two in scoring position to bring up Davis as the tying run, but Morton struck him out looking to end the threat. Chance Sisco homered after Trey Mancini opened the ninth with a single, but the next three Orioles went down without issue.