When Triple-A manager Gary Kendall called Tuesday morning to tell Stevie Wilkerson he was getting to return to the majors, Wilkerson was at his favorite Norfolk coffee shop, Cure.
“I love going to coffee shops,” Wilkerson said, “so I had to buy a T-shirt from there, too.”
The jolt of good news plus the caffeine meant Wilkerson played energized in his first game for the Orioles since the finale of the 2019 season, though it came in a 13-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Camden Yards. At the plate, he doubled in his first at-bat and smacked an RBI single in his second, contributing to the only meaningful run-scoring efforts the Orioles (17-24) managed.
Despite the lopsided score, he wasn’t needed on the mound, where his late-inning outings during his previous major league stint got him the nickname “Dr. Poo Poo,” the result of manager Brandon Hyde applying an honorary doctorate to how Wilkerson once described his soft tosses to batters. One such performance ended in history, with Wilkerson becoming the first position player to earn a save in a 16-inning victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
There was no such glory Tuesday night. He started at second base as the immediate replacement for Rio Ruiz, who the Orioles designated for assignment to open a spot for Wilkerson on the 40-man and major league rosters. The first major league acquisition made by executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, Ruiz hit .220/.292/.380 with Baltimore, primarily as the club’s starting third baseman before adopting second base late this spring. He led the Orioles in games played during Hyde’s tenure.
“He’s a clubhouse favorite, he’s a coaches favorite, he’s easy to like, he’s easy to coach,” Hyde said of Ruiz. “You get to know somebody not only on a professional level but a personal level when you’re around players as much as we are. So it’s an extremely difficult day to say goodbye.”
Wilkerson is familiar with rapidly adapting to a new position, serving as the Orioles’ main center fielder in 2019 despite having never played there professionally before that year. He was in line for a potential utility spot on the 2020 roster before breaking his left ring finger on a sliding catch in an exhibition game just ahead of the regular season. This time, Wilkerson will split duties at second base, his natural position, with Pat Valaika, Hyde said.
“I’d like to give Stevie a little bit of a look,” Hyde said. “I’ll probably play the hot hand.”
In Norfolk, that was Wilkerson. He earned his promotion by posting a .914 OPS with the Tides.
“The fire was burning the whole time,” Wilkerson said. “It was tough to depart the way I did last year, and for a little while there, watching all the games and everything it was tough to swallow, but the fire was burning, and I kept hope alive. It’s nice for things to come full circle and to be back here with the club.
“Walking into Camden, I never take that for granted.”
Wilkerson’s return also ushered in a throwback to some 2019-like pitching.
Starter Matt Harvey’s second inning featured some bad-luck hits — a couple of bloops, a double off third base, a swinging-bunt single — amid a pair of three-run home runs, as he became the first Orioles starter to allow at least six earned runs in an outing of fewer than two innings since Dylan Bundy in July 2019. In his past three starts, Harvey has allowed 17 runs in 10 innings.
“I didn’t really feel comfortable from the beginning,” he said. “Just kind of got into some old habits mechanically and gave up some soft hits, and then obviously with runners on, I gave up two hard ones that cost us the game.
“I don’t think there’s any positives from the last two or three outings. Going four or less innings as a starter is completely unacceptable and giving up as many runs as I have the last three games is extremely unacceptable.”
Added Hyde: “Just wasn’t real sharp.”
Behind him, Tyler Wells, Travis Lakins Sr. and Shawn Armstrong each surrendered a two-run home run. Wells, otherwise, was sharp, as the rookie struck out a career-high six in 2 ⅓ innings.
Showing some fight
Sunday, the Orioles rallied from a 4-0 deficit to beat the New York Yankees. For a bit Tuesday, they at least threatened to come back from 8-0.
After Wilkerson’s third-inning double, he went to third when Cedric Mullins singled to extend his hitting streak to 11 games, then Austin Hays singled him home. They scored three times in the fourth behind Wilkerson’s RBI single, Hays’ bases-loaded fielder’s choice and a run-scoring single from Trey Mancini that gave him an MLB-best 16 RBIs in May.
DJ Stewart and Valaika tacked on RBI singles in the ninth as the Orioles lost for the eighth time in 10 games.
“It’s been really frustrating,” Mancini said. “I feel like a lot of times we’re just not synced up. I feel like there are times offensively when we’re on when the pitchers are having a tough night, and a lot of times they’re on and we’re not doing our part.
“I know we can right the ship. There’s going to be times like this throughout a season. I’m still so confident with all the guys we have in there and our personnel. I know we can turn it around.”
Richie Martin, who played shortstop for the 2019 Orioles after they selected him first overall in the Rule 5 draft, smashed into the outfield wall while playing center field for Norfolk on Tuesday and suffered what the team called left wrist pain. He will undergo follow-up testing within the next day.
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.
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