If there’s a difference between what Ryan Mountcastle showed at the beginning of the season to now, the obvious distinction is in the results. But at a more minute level, manager Brandon Hyde ignores those results, focusing on how anxious and jumpy the Orioles first baseman looked early on compared with the control he now displays over the strike zone.
Perhaps there’s no better example of that difference than the fifth-inning at-bat from Mountcastle on Monday against the Kansas City Royals at Camden Yards. Faced with a 1-2 count with two outs, Mountcastle fouled off three pitches — including two knuckle curves — before laying off a slider.
Then Mountcastle sent the seventh pitch he saw into left field to score two runners, the biggest hit of Baltimore’s six-run inning. It’s moments such as those that show the strides Mountcastle — and by extension, the offense — have made this month. The Orioles scored four of those runs with two outs, leading to a big inning and resulting in a 6-1 victory to secure the series over the Royals.
“He was pitching me tough all day,” Mountcastle said of right-hander Carlos Hernández, who allowed all six runs. “For me to dunk one in there and really almost put the game out of reach was good.”
For as anemic as Baltimore’s scoring production was in April — the Orioles (12-17) scored 62 runs last month, second fewest only to the Royals — they’ve already more than doubled that per-game output in May, with 40.
They scored more than two runs in 10 games last month; they’ve done that six times in eight attempts in May.
“Seems like balls are starting to fall, finally,” Mountcastle said.
And that production was more than enough to support right-hander Tyler Wells, who threw a season-high 75 pitches and completed six innings for the first time in his two seasons in the major leagues.
To set Wells up for the victory, that fifth inning began with a one-out walk by third baseman Tyler Nevin and a double by catcher Anthony Bemboom. Shortstop Jorge Mateo drove Nevin in with a single before his speed caused havoc on the basepaths.
Mateo swiped his ninth base, taking second and drawing a throw from catcher MJ Melendez. But that throw sailed into center, allowing Mateo to scamper to third and for Bemboom to cross the plate.
“Stealing bases is really important. It’s a really big part of my game,” Mateo said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “At the end of the day, it helps the team win, so I really enjoy that.”
From there, first baseman Trey Mancini drove in another run before a wild pitch and Mountcastle’s single brought home three more.
A runaway inning such as that helped extend the leash on Wells, who produced what could be his best start this season to back up what could be the best offensive inning of the season.
“That inning was a keep-the-line-moving type of attitude, next-guy-up mentality,” Hyde said, “and we ran the bases well.”
Another step forward
It’s another milestone for Wells, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019 and missed the 2020 campaign because the minor league season was canceled because of the coronavirus. The buildup has been slow, as he pitched out of the bullpen last year before making the jump into the rotation once more.
The last time Wells completed six innings was Aug. 25, 2018, when he pitched for the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts in the Minnesota Twins’ system.
“Since Tommy John surgery, yeah, six innings and quality start, I guess is what you could consider the milestone,” Wells said. “But the way I’m looking at it right now is just making sure that I go out there and I give my team a chance to win, and that’s exactly what happened today, so that I’m extremely happy about.”
Wells settled after the first inning, when Bobby Witt Jr. singled, stole second and scored on a single by Ryan O’Hearn. He went on to retire 10 straight batters at one point, and with an extra day of rest due to the Saturday rainout, Hyde was comfortable stretching Wells to his longest outing in four years.
“It’s not easy transitioning from the bullpen to a starter,” Hyde said. “Not pitching for two years prior to that. And to be able to post every five, six days the way Tyler’s doing right now, that’s why we’re monitoring it so closely, because we care about the kid, we believe in him going forward and to see him go six innings and give up one run in the first is pretty cool.”
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With a doubleheader Sunday, there was a potential for stress on the bullpen. But in three straight games, the performances from the starters erased any concern about overusing the bullpen. Right-hander Jordan Lyles pitched 7 1/3 in Sunday’s first game and left-hander Bruce Zimmermann went six innings in the nightcap. Coupled with Wells’ six innings, it was the first time the Orioles had three consecutive starters pitch six innings since August of last year.
Those starts helped the Orioles turn in a 6-4 homestand, winning series against the Boston Red Sox and Royals while splitting a four-game set against the Twins. It’ll make for a happier flight to St. Louis for a series against the Cardinals.
“We pitched extremely well this series. We swung the bats a little better these last few days,” Hyde said. “That’s good to see.”
Tuesday, 7:45 p.m.
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