Much like the wrestling belt the Orioles pass around in their dugout to home run hitters these days, the honor of being the player on the verge of getting his season back on track has been bestowed on many this summer.
After hitting two home runs in the Orioles’ 9-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers before an announced crowd of 7,124 at Camden Yards that was made to wait nearly two hours through a rain delay Tuesday night, that title now belongs to outfielder Anthony Santander.
“I felt like a lot of the year, he was kind of late, laboring to get the bat through [the strike zone] and right now, he is swinging the bat with the bat speed that we’ve seen in the past and getting to fastballs,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Really nice to see him drive one out the other way. Took some really good swings tonight off a good starter. It’s noticeably different.”
The reigning Most Valuable Oriole has had a tumultuous year featuring an ice-cold start, a sprained ankle that cost him a month and then a brief return to form before a midsummer swoon.
Now, Santander is batting .429 (12-for-28) in August with three home runs and hits in eight straight games. His big night Tuesday wasn’t enough to help the Orioles overcome a poor start from left-hander Keegan Akin, but as the club looks to identify the players who will be part of the group that eventually avoids a 100-loss season and contends for a playoff spot down the line, Santander can re-establish himself as part of that solution.
“Tony’s got a year and a half, played pretty regularly the last year-plus,” Hyde said. “Still really early in his career. Got banged up a little bit this year early, was on the IL, had kind of a tough time recovering from that ankle, and now he’s swinging the bat better. I think at the end of the year, then the front office will evaluate, but right now, I’d like to see him finish strong and like we’re seeing tonight for me and really the past week, he’s swung the bat a lot like last year, and hopefully he can have a good last couple of months.”
With the two-homer day, Santander pulled his average up to .245 with a .724 OPS. When he returned from a week on the injured list due to COVID-19 protocols, he was batting .231 with a .661 OPS.
“It’s really important [to finish strong], but I think the most important thing for me is to try to stay healthy because that way, I can help the team,” Santander said.
His second-inning home run cut the Orioles’ deficit to 2-1 and landed on Eutaw Street in right field, and he hit one out to left-center for his second home run of the game in the fourth inning.
DJ Stewart homered later in the fourth and Cedric Mullins doubled and scored on an error in the fifth, but that was as close as the Orioles (38-73) got. They’ve lost six straight, and allowed nine runs in each of those games.
The Orioles are the 10th major league team since 1901 to allow nine or more runs in six straight games and the first to do so since 2002. They are one shy of the record, held by the 1901 New York Giants and 2000 Seattle Mariners.
A fair offensive showing from the Orioles against former top overall draft pick Casey Mize meant little after Akin’s return to the rotation went poorly. He pitched well in relief in two outings following his own COVID-related absence, but was responsible for his own undoing Tuesday.
Akin (0-6) retired the first five batters he faced before a nine-pitch walk with two outs led to two runs in the second inning. He allowed four runs on five hits in the third inning, and was replaced by Marcos Diplán for the fourth.
“Just didn’t execute my pitches as well as I should have,” Akin said. “When I was ahead in the count, just left too many balls up and over the plate for them to put in play and do damage with.”
In 16 appearances (nine starts) this season, Akin has a 8.23 ERA with a 1.79 WHIP. Adam Plutko allowed a two-run home run to Jeimer Candelario in the eighth and Alexander Wells gave up a run in the ninth. Diplán’s two scoreless innings and a clean sixth inning from struggling left-hander Paul Fry were the only bright spots on the mound.
Collision in the gap
Santander hit a drive to left-center field in the eighth inning that led to a scary moment in the Tigers outfield. Center fielder Derek Hill and left fielder Akil Baddoo collided as Hill made the catch, and both stayed down for several minutes before leaving the game with the Tigers’ medical staff.
Tigers manager AJ Hinch told reporters Baddoo is being checked for a concussion as well as a shoulder injury, while Hill was having his ribs examined.
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.
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