Orioles Notebook: Starting Pitchers Set Early Tone, Youngsters Make Debuts

Orioles ace John Means set the tone with a dazzling performance in the season opener against the Boston Red Sox.

The next day, Matt Harvey took another step in resurrecting his once-promising career.

Then, rookie Bruce Zimmermann gave the Orioles a glimpse of a potentially bright future by picking up his first major-league win.

As such, the Orioles’ rotation paved the way for a rare three-game sweep against the Red Sox in Fenway Park.

“I was so encouraged by our pitching,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I thought we really threw the ball well all series. We got really good starts from three guys and our bullpen did a nice job coming in and throwing strikes.”

Means had one of the best performances by an Orioles pitcher in recent memory. He allowed one hit in seven scoreless innings with five strikeouts and no walks in the 3-0 win. It was the Orioles’ first Opening Day shutout since 2005.

“It was pretty special,” Means said. “Just amazing to have my family there. Fenway Park holds a special place in my heart. It was a really cool experience that I’ll have to tell my kids forever.”

Harvey was able to put together another solid performance the following day. While he could not earn the win because he lasted just 4.2 innings, Harvey showed promising command and allowed two runs on six hits with four strikeouts and one walk in the 4-2 win.

“Obviously kicking myself to not get out of that fifth and deeper in the game, but overall I think it was a solid first start and just try to build off that next time,” Harvey said. “Anytime you win the first series of the year, it’s big, so we’ve got some good momentum now. And obviously, it’s only two games, but to come in here, a good ballclub, you’ve got to play well and guys came in and pitched great after me.”

Zimmermann, a native of Woodstock, Md., and a graduate of Loyola Blakefield, pitched well enough during the spring to earn the role as the No. 3 starter. Hyde was rewarded for his confidence in the left-hander, as Zimmermann picked up his first big-league win with the Orioles 11-3 victory in the series finale.

Zimmermann allowed three runs and four hits with five strikeouts and one walk in six innings.

“My goal today was to go out and give my team a quality start, and I was able to do that and the win was the cherry on top,” Zimmermann said. “To watch the offense come alive like that was very encouraging and especially the third game of the series to really put the nail in the coffin and take the sweep is a great confidence booster. Getting that win today was a big sigh of relief, and I was just really happy to go out there and get a really good start under my belt off the bat.”

However, Jorge López did not fare as well in his 2021 debut, taking the loss in a 7-0 setback in the series opener against the New York Yankees April 5.

Mullins Takes Center Stage

This offseason, Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins gave up switch-hitting and focused on hitting from the left side of the plate. Mullins entered this season with more confidence and is off to a scorching start, going 10-for-17 with three doubles and four runs.

“I’m trying to come off what I consider a successful 2020 and just staying consistent at the plate, just working with all of our hitting guys and giving them an idea of what I’ve been working on and just continuing to do that,” Mullins said. “It’s relaxing. I’m able to go up there and stay locked in on my at-bats, putting good swings on the baseball. That’s all that I ever want is hard contact. Spraying the ball really well and then it translates on defense. Staying locked in each pitch.”

Entering the season, Hyde had no reservations about Mullins’ role at the top of the lineup. So far, that confidence has paid off.

“Cedric Mullins set the table for us … making things happen,” Hyde said. “He played great center field defense. Just doing everything extremely well.”

With Hays Out, McKenna Makes Debut

Orioles hitting coach Don Long was impressed by outfielder Ryan McKenna during spring training.

McKenna, a 2015 fourth-round pick from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in New Hampshire, entered the spring having not yet reached Triple-A due to the cancellation of the minor-league season in 2020. Still, he remained on course to make an impact on the major-league level.

That moment came sooner rather than later when outfielder Austin Hays was placed on the 10-day injured list with a strained right hamstring. McKenna, 24, made his Orioles debut April 6 against the Yankees, starting in right field and going 0-for-2 with a walk.

“I think Ryan McKenna’s done a great job,” Long said during the spring. “I’ve been impressed with his command of the strike zone. I think there’s a lot of parts of his game that play well offensively and defensively and on the bases. He’s been open to maybe adjusting something here and there to improve.

“He doesn’t chase a lot of pitches. His challenge was when he did swing, just the way he went about it, he was fouling a lot of pitches off or putting them in play, but not hard, and so he’s been open and willing to make some adjustments. He impressed me.”

As for Hays, the injury bug continues to hamper his career. Last season, he missed an entire month after being hit in the ribs by a pitch. The latest setback occurred in Boston April 4, when he dove back into second base on a line-drive single by Mullins that initially appeared to be caught. In the past, Hays also has dealt with injuries to his thumb, ankle and shoulder.

When healthy, Hays has been one of the Orioles’ most productive players. After coming off the injured list from the rib injury last September, he hit .377/.404/.585 (20-for-53) with three home runs and 12 runs scored the rest of the way. During this stretch, his 20 hits tied for fourth in the majors and his 12 runs tied for fourth.

The key for Hays is to stay on the field.

Sceroler Shows Promise

Rule 5 pitcher Mac Sceroler was one of the few highlights for the Orioles April 5, as the soon-to-be 26-year-old right-hander made his big-league debut at Yankee Stadium.

He entered the game with a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning and emerged unscathed in the blowout loss. Sceroler, the nephew of former Orioles ace Ben McDonald, threw 2.2 scoreless innings that put him in position for more opportunities.

“I can pitch and get the job done,” Sceroler said. “It was definitely comforting for me to be put in that situation and succeeding. Kind of lifts bricks off your shoulders, knowing I can compete here, my stuff is good enough to play here.”

As a Rule 5 player, Sceroler must remain on the Orioles’ big-league roster all year or be subject to waivers, and if he were to clear, be offered back to the Cincinnati Reds, his former club.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles

Todd Karpovich

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