A series of injuries to Orioles starting pitchers has forced manager Buck Showalter to think creatively about filling a growing number of rotation holes.
And Saturday night, he sent right-hander Yefry Ramírez — who hadn’t made a start since Aug. 19 — to the mound to face the Chicago White Sox.
Ramírez did his job. The Orioles offense didn’t in a 2-0 loss.
The Orioles (42-106) suffered their 14th shutout defeat of the season and moved within one loss of matching the franchise record for defeats in a season with 14 games remaining.
The Orioles needed a deep start badly, as their starting pitchers failed to record an out in the sixth inning in seven of the eight starts entering Saturday, placing added workload on the team’s already-expanded bullpen.
Ramírez (1-6) took advantage of a free-swinging White Sox lineup early, striking out seven in his first five innings. He had a little extra on his four-seam fastball, and he threw it effectively up in the zone against an aggressive group of Chicago hitters.
Showalter took Ramírez as far as he could, but after allowing back-to-back doubles with two outs in the sixth inning – scoring the game’s first run – he was done after 83 pitches one out shy of a quality start having allowed just one run.
“Really good, really good,” Showalter said. “That’s probably his best outing of the year. A good night to pitch on, crisp. I thought [his] best fastball, best slider. His slider’s come a long way. Changeup, threw about 10 or 15 of those. Good times to the plate with runners on base. You couldn’t ask for much [more].”
Said catcher Caleb Joseph: "That is tough to do when you've not started and been in the bullpen. Really nice job. It's a shame we couldn't push across anything for him there."
But the Orioles couldn’t muster any offense against the White Sox (59-89), held scoreless by Chicago right-hander Reynaldo López over seven innings.
Right-handed reliever Mychal Givens allowed a huge insurance run in top of the ninth, yielding a solo homer to outfielder Avisaíl García.
“No, that’s been a challenge for us for a while,” Showalter said of the offense’s woes. “Tonight’s definitely one of those days. [López] reminded me a little bit of [New York Yankees ace Luis] Severino. He’s got a good live arm and command the breaking ball and changeup, too. You just couldn’t sit on one. He made you honor all three pitches and we haven’t been swinging the bats well regardless of who’s pitching, so that really made it a challenge for us tonight. We had a couple of opportunities. It would have been a little different situation if we didn’t let them have that tack-on run, but you’re not going to win any games not scoring any runs but it’s hard to win 2-1 games.”
The Orioles couldn’t take advantage of the few scoring opportunities presented. Their best was in the seventh, when they put López on the ropes after a single by Trey Mancini and a walk to Chris Davis put two on with one out in the inning.
But Tim Beckham struck out swinging and Renato Núñez popped out to first to end the Orioles’ best scoring threat.
The Orioles also put two on with two outs in the ninth against right-handed reliever Juan Minaya, but Núñez flied out to end the game.
Ramírez had made his four appearances entering Saturday in relief, and his 2.57 ERA over that stretch (especially compared to his 7.34 ERA in seven starts) raised eyebrows in assessing his future.
“Being in the bullpen I've learned some stuff,” Ramírez said through translator Ramón Alarcón. “But the biggest thing for me is practicing, just dedicating myself, training myself and preparing for my next outing.
He looked strong in his return to starting. His four-seam fastball averaged 93.2 mph, nearly an entire mile per hour better than it was entering the game. And of his seven strikeouts, six of them were on fastballs, and five of those were swinging.
Asked whether he felt he had extra zip on his fastball, Ramírez said, “I think [there] was. At the same time, being able to command my fastball, I think that's a big plus.”
Ramírez entered the sixth having allowed just one hit — Adam Engel’s bunt single in the third — and no base runner went beyond first base over his first five innings.
In the sixth, Tim Anderson opened with an infield single, but was erased attempting to steal second for Joseph’s second of three base runners caught stealing on the night.
With one out, Yoán Moncada doubled and scored on Yolmer Sánchez’s double that landed just inside the left-field foul line, scoring the eventual winning run.