BOSTON — Kyle Stowers threaded the needle earlier this series when asked for his thoughts on his opportunities to face left-handed pitching — or lack thereof. He walked a diplomatic line, acknowledging how the Orioles have ample right-handed hitters who can face southpaws.
“I think it’s less about what I’ve done against lefties in the past and more to do with the guys we have here,” Stowers said.
But even then, the rookie outfielder admitted he always wants to have a chance to prove himself. He did that in the minor leagues, hitting left-handed pitching to the tune of a .982 OPS this season.
Until Thursday, though, manager Brandon Hyde has largely avoided left-on-left matchups for Stowers. Then left-hander Matt Strahm took the mound for the Boston Red Sox in the seventh inning at Fenway Park, and Stowers stayed in the game. He walked to the plate, saw two pitches and then blasted the third — a hanging curveball — deep over the right field fence.
It was only Stowers’ second plate appearance against a left-hander, and it couldn’t have gone better, tying the game late before Boston’s J.D. Martinez’s two-run homer in the eighth inning secured the Red Sox’s 5-3 victory and series win.
“Great swing on it,” Hyde said. “It’s not that I don’t like him against [left-handers], it’s just a lot of times we have guys who are swinging the bat well against left-handed pitchers. Gave him an opportunity there, and he came through.”
The loss, Baltimore’s fifth in six games, lowers its magic number for elimination to two games, with the Seattle Mariners playing Thursday night. The defeat also clinched the Toronto Blue Jays a wild-card spot. The focus, if not expressed outwardly, is shifting more toward next season, with an understanding that the Orioles’ slew of standout rookies will be the ones leading the way.
There was Adley Rutschman recording his 33rd double of the season, passing Cal Ripken Jr. for the most in a season by an Orioles rookie. Gunnar Henderson reached base twice and lashed a double of his own. And then Stowers hit his third homer of the season.
“Cal Ripken, he is the Orioles,” Rutschman said of his achievement. “It’s definitely a cool thing.”
Perhaps the season winding to a close is why Hyde allowed Stowers to face Strahm. Asked earlier this month whether Stowers might see more opportunities against southpaws, Hyde said Stowers would get “plenty of opportunities,” but noted how “if we were 20 games under .500, things might be a little different.”
And even on Tuesday, Hyde opted to have Jesús Aguilar pinch hit for Stowers. It resulted in a fifth-inning flyout against Strahm.
But with six games remaining and the Orioles (80-76) on the brink of missing out on the postseason, there could be more room to experiment, to see whether Stowers has a future facing lefties. At Triple-A Norfolk, Stowers posted reverse splits, with a .326 batting average against lefties and a .244 average against righties.
“I feel comfortable against righties and I feel comfortable against lefties,” Stowers said. “To me, it’s just a strength for me that I feel comfortable against both. Obviously, I’m not always going to have success against both, but as far as confidence level going into at-bats, it doesn’t change whether the hitter throws righty or lefty.”
His only other plate appearance against a left-handed pitcher was in Toronto as a replacement player; he was hit by a pitch. The drive to right-center field Thursday might only increase the 24-year-old’s confidence.
Right-hander Mike Baumann allowed two runs on six hits in four innings, and left-hander Cionel Pérez allowed another run in the sixth before Stowers made it 3-3 in the seventh, piggybacking off Baltimore’s two-run third inning.
But after the Orioles tied it up, Martinez teed off against right-hander Dillon Tate and sent a blast over the Green Monster, the final blow in a series that didn’t include many positives for the Orioles. Now Baltimore will head to New York to face the Yankees, with its postseason hopes hanging by a thread.
“There’s still some energy,” Baumann said. “The guys are still fighting.”
Reshuffling the rotation
The rain delay Monday kept Jordan Lyles from his usual deep outing, restricting the right-hander to only two innings in the series opener against Boston. So to open the final road series of the season — with still a glimmer of postseason possibilities — Hyde moved Lyles up a day to face the Yankees and Aaron Judge on Friday.
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The change pushes right-hander Austin Voth to Saturday, with right-hander Kyle Bradish on schedule to pitch Sunday.
The move didn’t have anything to do with Judge, who tied Yankees great Roger Maris’ American League record with his 61st home run against the Blue Jays on Wednesday, Hyde said. With a day off Thursday, Judge will have three games at home against the Orioles to break the record.
“I was really hoping he’d hit one more last night,” Hyde said before Thursday’s game. “But that didn’t have anything to do with it, honestly. … It’s gonna be a little bit unusual. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. It’s going to be fun to be involved in that type of atmosphere. Let’s hope we pitch him well.”
Friday, 7:05 p.m.
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