The Orioles’ Saturday night matchup with the New York Yankees quickly devolved into a bullpen game. They could be staring at another.
A brief Jorge López outing in an 8-2 loss to New York left seven innings for the bullpen in front of a sellout crowd at Camden Yards, and with the Orioles electing to push All-Star left-hander John Means’ next outing to Wednesday rather than use him in Sunday’s series finale as originally scheduled, relievers could be tasked with handling all nine innings as Baltimore tries to avoid a sweep, with manager Brandon Hyde saying after the loss he was undecided on who would start.
Means will instead pitch on the two-week anniversary of his 113-pitch no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners. He followed that with six shutout innings against the New York Mets on Tuesday, on 74 pitches. His 52 innings have already surpassed his 2020 total and entered Saturday ranked as the seventh most in baseball.
“Anytime we’re going to have the ability to give our guys extra days, we’re going to,” Hyde said before the game. “We’ve talked a lot about last year being an unusual year, managing workload this year. John’s thrown a ton of innings so far this year already.
“I don’t think it’s going to be unusual around the league. I think you’re seeing everybody push guys back and give guys extra rest here and there when necessary.”
Hyde noted that Monday’s day off is the Orioles’ last of May, meaning their starters will likely need to pitch on their regular turn through early June. Twice already, Baltimore (16-23) has announced that it would capitalize on off-days to skip its fifth starter’s spot and use Means twice in a five-game span, only to abandon those plans to give him a week of rest.
The first time, Wade LeBlanc started a late April game in which the Orioles trailed the Oakland Athletics 7-1 after four innings, but Means pitched the finale to avoid a sweep. He won’t provide that solace Sunday against New York.
For all his fifth-inning struggles in 2021, López had been consistent through seven starts by at least reaching that frame each outing.
He failed to even get to the third Saturday against the Yankees (22-17). Having not yet allowed a run or issued a walk in the first inning this season, López gave up a single between two walks to quickly load the bases with no outs. A sinker snuck underneath catcher Chance Sisco to score one of those runners, and a single from Gary Sánchez brought home the others.
“He’s been so good early in the game, really all year,” Hyde said. “He just didn’t have his command in the first inning, and they jumped all over him.”
New York struck for two more runs off López on Aaron Judge’s second-inning home run. Six of his 11 this season have come against Baltimore.
Rookie left-hander Keegan Akin might have been a candidate to start in Means’ place Sunday had he not been needed in relief of López, who need 71 pitches to get six outs. Akin faced the minimum over the next three innings before ceding the bases loaded to fellow rookie Tyler Wells, who allowed all three inherited runners to score as he balked before throwing a pitch and then surrendered a two-run single.
“I’m disappointed those three runs scored there in that in that inning because it doesn’t tell the story of how well he threw,” Hyde said. “I was really encouraged, how aggressive he was, attacking a good lineup, using multiple pitches, really keeping the ball off the barrel, working ahead and throwing a ton of strikes.”
Wells pitched through the seventh without further damage. Shawn Armstrong handled the next two innings, getting some help in the ninth from Ryan McKenna robbing Sánchez of a three-run home run with a leaping catch at the left-field wall.
Trey Mancini’s RBI groundout in the sixth got the Orioles on the board, but he might have come up in a run-scoring opportunity sooner had a replay review gone Baltimore’s way.
In the third inning, the Orioles challenged a ruling that Austin Hays was out at first on the back end of an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded. An overturned call would have plated a run and brought up Mancini, their leader in RBIs, with runners on the corners, but it stood after a one-minute, 20-second review as Hays grounded into a double play for only the second time in the past three seasons.
They added a second run on Ramón Urías’ RBI single in the ninth.
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
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