Thanks to a bounce-back outing from their best starter of the young season — right-hander David Hess — the Orioles were still in touch with the Boston Red Sox when they collected their first hit of the game with two outs in the fifth inning.
But even with a two-run home run from Dwight Smith Jr. pulling them within a run in the seventh inning and Renato Núñez’s two-run home run in the ninth, the Orioles' late-game fight wasn't enough to prevent a 6-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox before an announced crowd of 33,668 at Fenway Park on Friday night.
“I think that we're rallying in the dugout. I think guys are not giving up and taking really good at-bats late in the game,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “So it's a sign of a team with a lot of character, high character, that we're able to battle back against some good pitching and make it close there at the end. I was just really happy with how, after getting really shut down the first five, six innings, to be able to put some baserunners out there. … We just couldn't muster any kind of rally in the first four, five innings of the game.”
The loss was the Orioles' fourth straight, and they've dropped eight of nine since their improbable 4-1 start. And for the fourth time in 14 games, they took a while to get it going.
Hess, who had the home-run bug in his most recent start at Camden Yards as so many of the Orioles had on the recent homestand, allowed a two-out home run to Andrew Benintendi in the third inning, an RBI double to Xander Bogaerts in the fourth inning and a run-scoring single by Eduardo Núñez two batters later.
Hess lamented after the game that he let his team down, having left the game in the sixth inning down 3-0. But it was hardly on him, as the Orioles only reached base off their former farmhand Eduardo Rodriguez in the fifth inning.
Rodriguez didn't allow a hit until a two-out single by Hanser Alberto — who also broke up a no-hitter in the sixth inning on Sunday against the New York Yankees. It was the third time this week the Orioles went into the fifth inning without a hit. Rodriguez was cruising when Trey Mancini doubled past a leaping Mookie Betts in the seventh. Two batters later, Smith hit his second home run in as many days to chase Rodríguez, and the Orioles stranded the tying run against the Red Sox bullpen.
Smith admitted that there’s some frustration growing in such games, when the offense can’t seem to conjure anything early.
“It can get frustrating for sure because we know what we’re capable of, and we’re capable of playing better,” Smith said.
Boston tacked on a run in the seventh against Paul Fry and two in the eighth against Evan Phillips, which proved enough to beat an Orioles offense that, after collecting four hits apiece in losses Wednesday and Thursday, had just four hits Friday. At 112.7-mph off the bat, according to MLB’s Statcast data, Núñez’s home run in the ninth was the hardest-hit ball of the Orioles’ season. But it was still just one of four.
“We just didn't score any runs,” Hyde said. “We had four hits yesterday. How many did we have tonight, four again? We've got to get more hits, obviously. We've got to get more baseruners. I like the way we're grinding out at-bats. It's just been a struggle the last couple games putting rallies together.”
Chris Davis pinch-hit with two outs in the ninth and lined out into the shift to end the game, finding the exact patch of outfield grass that Eduardo Núñez stood on. According to Statcast, similar batted balls to Davis’ have an expected batting average of .970. He was trying to end his 0-for-53 run at the plate over his last 61 plate appearances over two seasons.
Hyde said Davis hit in place of right-handed hitting catcher Jesús Sucre because Boston brought right-hander Ryan Brasier into the game.
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“Well, Brasier’s numbers against right-handed hitters are extraordinary, so I was just trying to get the tying run to the plate,” Hyde said. “CD’s obviously left-handed, and almost always in a 3-2 count it seems like. Hoping for a walk or something where he can possibly get on base for us and bring Rio [Ruiz] up, try to keep the rally going, and he put together a great at-bat. Got the full count. Got one out to right field and the shift got him.”
Hess holds the line
While Hess was hit hard at times Friday, the result was still one of the best starts of the Orioles' young season. He has the clear front-runner with 6 1/3 scoreless innings on April 1 in Toronto, but with 5 2/3 innings of three-run ball, he has a 3.32 ERA.
“I think really competing was the biggest thing tonight,” Hess said. “I felt like I didn't have my best stuff out there, so I really was trying to establish fastball as best as possible. Got a good feel for the split as the game went on, so just kind of trying to put it together as best as we could tonight.”
Fourteen in a row
In allowing Benintendi's first home run of the season, Hess extended the Orioles streak of consecutive games having allowed a home run to 14 games to start the season, a franchise record. The 2009 Philadelphia Phillies set the major-league record with 16 straight games with a home run allowed.
A pair of well-regarded Orioles pitching prospects matched gems with 10 strikeouts apiece Friday night. Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, making his second start of the season for Low-A Delmarva, struck out 10 batters in six innings of shutout ball, giving him 10 strikeouts for the second straight game.
Left-hander Keegan Akin was making his second start for the Tides and struck out 10 in six innings of four-hit, two-run ball. They join right-hander Mike Baumann (High-A Frederick) and right-hander Ofelky Peralta (Delmarva) with 10-strikeout games in the young minor league season.