ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Jordan Lyles prides himself on pitching deep into games to pick up the Orioles and their bullpen. In Sunday’s first-half finale at Tropicana Field, his teammates couldn’t completely return the favor after his shortest start with Baltimore.
The Tampa Bay Rays knocked out Lyles in the third inning, scoring in each of his frames to build a six-run lead in what ended as a 7-5 loss for the Orioles, their 17th defeat in their past 19 games in St. Petersburg. Baltimore has dropped 14 straight road series against the Rays, a drought dating to June 2017.
Sunday’s defeat cost the Orioles (46-46) a winning first half, though being .500 at the All-Star break is certainly an accomplishment given how they were expected to perform entering the fourth full season of their rebuild.
“I think we’re better than that,” said Lyles, the veteran of the Orioles’ pitching staff. “I think a lot of guys in the clubhouse, after the last few weeks, know we’re better than that. I don’t think we’re here to go away. We’re here to stay.”
Of their final 72 games, 39 come against other teams in the American League East, with all of the Rays, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays in playoff contention. The Orioles are 3 1/2 games behind Toronto for the AL’s third wild-card spot.
Lyles has little experience in a pennant race over his decade in the majors, but the Orioles signed him this offseason to eat innings after he threw 180 of them for the Texas Rangers last year. Sunday marked Lyles’ shortest outing in his past 47 appearances dating to last season and the first time he failed to pitch into the fifth in 19 starts for Baltimore, ending a five-start streak of working into the seventh. His 107 2/3 innings are over 11 more than any other Oriole has had in the first half during manager Brandon Hyde’s four-season tenure.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Hyde said. “For me, this is a small blip in what he’s done for us, which is pitch every fifth day, give us a chance almost every time out, stays out there as long as possible, wants to save the bullpen, ultra-competitive. Just today wasn’t his best day.”
With the Orioles using recent off days to give him an extra start before the break, Lyles put them in a hole early. After hitting Harold Ramírez with a pitch that broke his right thumb, Lyles allowed a home run to Randy Arozarena, his 13th in 30 career games against Baltimore. A walk to Brett Phillips, who entered play with one hit in his previous 34 at-bats, to begin the second became a run when Josh Lowe doubled him home with two outs.
Arozarena led off the third with a single, getting thrown out at home with no outs on a double from Brandon Lowe, a Maryland product. But that free out did little to help Lyles, who after a two-out walk surrendered a three-run home run to Phillips, his first long ball since May 17.
“I have a job to do here,” Lyles said, “and that’s to do what I did not do today.”
The Orioles chipped at Tampa Bays’ lead, getting RBI singles from Adley Rutschman and Ramón Urías in the fourth only to leave the bases loaded despite two at-bats in that situation. Rougned Odor’s two-run home run in the sixth got the Orioles within two, though Francisco Mejía homered on Keegan Akin’s first pitch of the bottom half.
Austin Hays did the same with Pete Fairbanks’ opening offering of the eighth, but after Rutschman followed with a double, the bottom three hitters in Baltimore’s order stranded him at second.
Still, the Orioles closed the first half with wins in 11 of their final 13 games, including 10 in a row entering this series, amid a stretch in which they’ve gone 22-11 over the past five weeks.
“I feel really good,” Hyde said. “Even today, we get down a ton early, and we battled back in the game.
“I think we have a lot of fight, and we’ve been playing really good baseball past the first three weeks of the season. We lost this series. That’s disappointing, but we’re playing good baseball.”
Behind Lyles, right-hander Bryan Baker stabilized the game with one of the most impressive relief outings an Oriole has provided in recent years.
Baker struck out all five batters he faced, becoming the first Baltimore pitcher to face at least five batters and retire all of them since pitch tracking began in 2008. After Phillips’ homer, Baker punched out Mejía on six pitches, threw 15 to strike out the side in the fourth, then punctuated his outing with a three-pitch strikeout of Arozarena to start the fifth before giving way to Akin.
In Baker’s dozen outings since his ERA rose to 6.00 on June 12, he has allowed two runs in 15 2/3 innings for a 1.15 ERA while striking out more than a third of the batters he’s faced.
Bautista dealing with hand injury
Félix Bautista, the Orioles’ top right-handed setup man, didn’t pitch Saturday’s extra-innings victory because of a right hand injury suffered before the game.
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He said the hook of the exercise bands he was using to stretch snapped off the fence it was connected to and whacked him in his pitching hand. He was unsure he would be available to pitch in Sunday’s game, but he warmed up in the top of the eighth, only to return to the Orioles’ dugout after doing so instead of staying with other relievers in Baltimore’s bullpen.
The rookie said he hopes to be ready for the start of the second half after posting a 1.72 ERA in his first 39 major league outings.
“It’s been very emotional, very exciting for me,” Bautista said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones before Sunday’s game. “I feel like I’ve done a really good job, and all I want to do is keep it going in the second half.”
Friday, 7:05 p.m.
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