ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Orioles’ 2022 season was always going to begin difficultly. Some players who could be fixtures of Baltimore’s next good team are perhaps already in place, but many of the organization’s ballyhooed prospects aren’t set to arrive until midseason.
There’s a clear need on the pitching side, where about half of the Orioles’ bullpen options came to Baltimore as waiver claims. That’s only the case because, less than a week before Friday’s season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Orioles traded high-leverage relievers Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser to the Miami Marlins. The pair very well might have served as manager Brandon Hyde’s primary setup man and closer, in some combination, had they been available to him.
But in the Orioles’ first regular-season game of 2022, and their first since that trade, the hole left at the back of their bullpen was clear. The Rays scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning to open Baltimore’s season with a 2-1 defeat. It marked the Orioles’ 13th straight loss to Tampa Bay, having gone 1-18 against the American League East champions in 2021.
“Really tough, but at the same time, really good game,” said right-hander Jorge López, who was on the mound when the winning run scored. “We know they have really good hitters. My plan was just attack, and unfortunately, I couldn’t get the plan [to be] successful.
“It’s a really tough one. But we just keep our head up and just thinking of tomorrow already.”
With Tyler Wells moved to the rotation, Hyde’s bullpen features only two players who earned a save for Baltimore last season in Dillon Tate and Paul Fry, who bookended López’s outing in the eighth. After Tampa Bay made Orioles starter John Means work to complete four innings of one-run ball, relievers Bryan Baker and Cionel Pérez — offseason waiver claims making their Orioles debuts —combined with Tate to retire the next nine Rays. But after Tate allowed a leadoff single in the eighth, Hyde brought in López, who struggled in the Orioles’ rotation last season but showed potential in a relief role.
After an eight-pitch battle with Ji-Man Choi resulted in a walk and a 49.9 mph infield single followed, Francisco Mejía lifted a sacrifice fly off López for the decisive run. Another walk reloaded the bases, with Fry entering and stranding three runners after struggling immensely against Tampa Bay in 2021.
“I wanted Lopie in the biggest part of the game, when it mattered,” Hyde said. “They got a swinging bunt single, safe at first base, pretty much cost us the game. Just bad luck on our part.”
The game had been tied since Anthony Santander homered to even the score in the sixth, but the Orioles failed to capitalize on their other opportunities, finishing 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. They loaded the bases with one out in the first against Tampa Bay starter Shane McClanahan but were unable to produce a run. McClanahan, born in Baltimore, struck out seven Orioles in 4 1/3 scoreless innings.
Baltimore batters struck out 14 times in the season-opening defeat, the last of which came when All-Star Cedric Mullins struck out to end the game after pinch-hitter Rougned Odor singled in his first at-bat as an Oriole.
“I thought we faced some really good pitching, and credit goes to them,” Hyde said. “They have really good arms. That’s been known for a long time now, and they threw the ball extremely well, so it was tough at-bats. We had an early opportunity, kind of let them off the hook there in the first by not cashing in for a run or two there. That might have changed some things, but they threw the ball extremely well.”
Making Means work
With spring training shortened by two weeks with the league coming off a 99-day lockout, starting pitchers aren’t going to be as built up as they typically are. So as Means saw his pitch count climb in a lengthy second inning, he knew his time in the game would be brief.
The Rays pushed Means to 84 pitches in four frames, fouling off 24 of those for the highest percentage of foul balls Means has allowed in any start that lasted more than an inning, according to Baseball Savant.
He needed only 25 pitches to record five outs but required 19 more to finish the second inning, with Rays designated hitter Josh Lowe working a 10-pitch walk. A 25-pitch third followed, with the Rays scoring the game’s first run of a sacrifice fly from Brandon Lowe (Maryland).
“I knew, especially with those long, long innings that I was probably going to be limited to four or five, and then the next one was long and I was like, OK, let’s get through the fourth,’” Means said. “It was a grinder for the first one.”
Means induced 11 swing-and-misses through three innings, tied for the second most he’s had at that point in any start. Six of those came on his changeup, and he finished with five strikeouts in his four innings.
It wasn’t as crisp as his first opening day start, when he held the Boston Red Sox to one hit over seven scoreless innings last year. But Hyde was pleased with the performance, even if Means felt it matched the “five-and-dive” performances he posted during his All-Star rookie season.
“That was as far as we were gonna allow them to go, to 80-ish pitches,” Hyde said. “He pitched out of trouble a little bit, and I thought he had a really good changeup today. Happy with giving up one run through four innings against a good club.”
First replay announcement
Beginning this year, MLB umpires will make in-ballpark announcements for the results of replay reviews. The Orioles were the beneficiaries of the first they were involved with.
With Tate pitching in the seventh, speedster Kevin Kiermaier hit a groundball to third baseman Kelvin Gutiérrez, with his throw temporarily pulling first baseman Ryan Mountcastle off the bag. First base umpire CB Bucknor ruled Mountcastle didn’t return to the base before Kiermaier reached it.
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The Orioles challenged the call, and after a review, home plate umpire and crew chief Jeff Nelson’s voice came through Tropicana Field’s booming sound system.
“After review, the call is overturned,” Nelson said. “The runner is out.”
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