Making his first start at Camden Yards this season and his third of the month, Orioles right-hander Gabriel Ynoa served the main purpose a young player has in a September spent outside the playoff race: provide hope for the future.
In a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday night before an announced 14,967 at Camden Yards that snapped a three-game skid, the 24-year-old right-hander allowed a run on five hits in eight innings to create the welcome possibility that the Orioles (74-80) might have an internal solution to one of several pending rotation openings for 2018.
"Every game, I take it as the last game of my career," Ynoa said through team interpreter Ramón Alarcón. "I'm just trying to take advantage of this opportunity and show that I can help.
While doing so, Ynoa worked around some early trouble that the Orioles could have avoided for him. A shallow fly ball to left field on the game's opening batter got lost in the lights and landed for a cheap double, though Ynoa lucked out when Mallex Smith was then thrown out trying to steal third on ball four that would have given the Rays two on and no outs. Instead, he allowed a single and got out of the inning on the first of two double plays he'd coax.
"He got through the first inning, one by being quick enough to the plate that [Welington Castillo] could throw the guy out at third," manager Buck Showalter said. "That kind of changed a lot of things. He got a big double play ball."
"After the first inning, I was able to make the adjustments, to calm down a little bit," Ynoa said. "I was too quick going to the plate, the angle of my arm was too low. But after that, I felt more confident and I just calmed down."
After a 1-2-3 second inning, Ynoa allowed a leadoff double to second baseman Brad Miller, who scored on a single to right field that resulted in an error on rookie Austin Hays, who bobbled the ball on the pick-up.
From there, Ynoa cruised. Riding a sinker/slider combo that lived low in the zone, he didn't allow another hit until a one-out nubber from shortstop Daniel Roberterson. He hit a batter and issued a walk in that span, but was otherwise in control. Most of the contact off him was soft, and he kept the ball on the ground effectively. Ynoa said the gameplan was to work down in the zone with his fastball, and Showalter said he was able to get by with just almost exclusively fastballs and sliders because his "command was a lot better" than his previous two starts this month.
"You're facing five left-handed hitters," Showalter said. "He only threw, I think, two or three changeups. That's unusual. That tells you what type of command of two pitches he had. What a job [Castillo] did with him. Good presentation and good rhythm to his outing."
The results were reminiscent of Ynoa's debut at Camden Yards as a reliever in early May, when in relief of injured left-hander Wade Miley, he pitched six scoreless innings of relief.
But rarely was that type of success harnessed out of the Triple-A Norfolk rotation, as he pitched to a 5.25 ERA in 21 starts and didn't earn himself many more major league chances.
Ynoa has a 3.18 ERA in three starts this month, and improved to 2-2 after Brad Brach picked up his 18th save of the season with a scoreless ninth inning.
"He went out there, he did the job," said third baseman Manny Machado, whose first-inning home run was the difference. "He went out there and he did everything he needed to do. We gave him a lead early on and he rolled with it. I think this was one of the quickest games we've played all year. He went in there, pounded the zone, did what he needed to do to get outs. He wasn't afraid of contact and he kept battling."
Manny happy returns: Showalter wasn't even clear if Machado would play Thursday after missing the previous game with an illness that he hadn't kicked, but he turned out to be the reason the Orioles broke their offensive skid.
Machado homered after a first-inning after a leadoff single by Hays to put the Orioles up 2-0 and break a streak of 26 straight innings without a run. Two batters later, center fielder Adam Jones hit a double off the right field wall and scored on a single by rookie Trey Mancini.
With one swing, he boosted his home run total to 33 and RBI total to 94 — putting last year's career-highs of 37 and 96 within reach with eight games to play.
Mancini continues streak: With his first-inning RBI single, Mancini extended his season-high hitting streak to 11 games, which is one shy of the team-high shortstop Tim Beckham set with hits in his first 12 games with the Orioles.
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"He doesn't waste at-bats, and he's been the picture of consistency for us," Showalter said.
Mancini did, however, contribute to a tense first inning for Ynoa when he lost a leadoff fly ball by Smith in the sky and had it fall for a double.
"The sky was dark, the clouds were kind of bright, if that makes sense," Mancini said. "I just completely lost it when it hit the sky."
In the other corner outfield spot, Hays was responsible for the run scoring when he committed an error on a single that got under his glove.
Two for Hays: Hays ended up with the Orioles' only multihit game, his fourth in eight starts. He's batting .290 and likely will see everyday right field duties the rest of the way.