The Orioles’ pitching staff has the appearance of a contending team.
But those looks can be deceiving.
The Orioles have struggled to get key hits and fell to 4-9 on the year with a 6-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics April 21.
It was also a rare hiccup for the pitching staff.
The Orioles’ starting rotation entered the game with a 2.68 ERA, the best in the American League. The bullpen was equally as good with a 2.47 ERA despite having several inexperienced pitchers.
Starter Tyler Wells lasted only 2.1 innings after allowing two runs and five hits in the series finale against the A’s. Nonetheless, manager Brandon Hyde is hopeful the team can get back on track against the Los Angeles Angels.
“We’re pitching extremely well and we’re not making it easy on them, either,” Hyde told reporters in Oakland. “They’re pitching in tight spots almost every single game. It’s not the easiest way to pitch. Hopefully, we give these guys a cushion at some point. But I am really happy with all of our pitchers. The starters are keeping us in the game. The bullpen guys are doing a great job coming in throwing strikes and that’s all you can ask.”
The key for the Orioles pitchers has been their ability to get ahead in the counts. They haven’t been giving in to opposing hitters.
Right-hander Chris Ellis has been one of the early feel-good storylines. Ellis, who signed a minor league deal in March, threw 4.1 scoreless innings against Oakland in his debut on April 19 after John Means went to the 60-day injured list.
Ellis has been a pleasant surprise and has kept the momentum from last season when he had a 2.49 ERA in six starts with the Orioles.
“We have some dogs out there in the starting rotation,” Ellis said. “We got some guys with some good stuff up here, so I’m just trying to fit in.”
Right-hander Spenser Watkins also rebounded from his first start when he lasted only three innings against the Brewers in the home-opening series. He allowed one run and two hits in five innings against the A’s on April 18.
Watkins started 10 games with Baltimore last season, going 2-7 with an 8.07 ERA. He re-signed with the Orioles less than a week after becoming a free agent this offseason. Watkins will continue to get opportunities with Means out for an extended period and the young arms at Norfolk, most notably Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez, needing more time to develop.
Another pleasant surprise has been de-facto closer Jorge Lopez, who has managed two saves this season. He has nine strikeouts over seven innings and could be a valuable trade chip later in the season for the rebuilding Orioles.
Lopez has consistently hit 99 mph with his fastball.
“I am really blessed, just to be given this opportunity,” he said after his April 20 save. “We’ve been pitching really well the whole series. It’s contagious. A blessing to be healthy and pitching. Everything was working really good.”
The hitting tells a different story.
The Orioles have scored two or fewer runs in eight of their 13 games. They entered the series finale against Oakland batting just .105 batting with runners in scoring position, the lowest mark in the majors. The Orioles then went 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position during the 6-4 loss.
Some of it is bad luck. The Orioles hit 10 balls more than 100 mph against Oakland April 19 but only managed two singles and a double. The rest were loud outs.
“We just need to put more good at-bats together throughout a game,” Hyde said. “We’re not putting enough good at-bats together to consistently have rallies.”
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