A surprisingly effective start from MLB debutant Tom Eshelman was ruined by the Orioles porous bullpen as they lost 6-3 to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The Orioles have a lot of flaws. But none is quite so glaring as the black hole of ineffectiveness that is their bullpen. It doesn’t really seem to matter too much who trots in to relieve the starter. Despair follows them all. That lack of depth reared its ugly head once again on Monday night.
Eshelman was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to start on the bump and make his major league debut. It was surely a dream come true for the 25-year-old. But his first inning of big league action looked more like a nightmare.
Austin Meadows led off the Rays half of the first inning with a single, and then moved to second on a Brandon Lowe walk. Following a fielder’s choice, Ji-Man Choi drove in the first run of the game, Meadows, with a single to right field. One batter later, Avisail Garcia doubled the advantage with a base hit of his own to bring home Yandy Diaz, the man who had reached on the fielder’s choice earlier.
It felt like the kind of inning that could quickly get away from the rookie, but Eshelman settled down after receiving a mound visit from pitching coach Doug Brocail, retiring Willy Adames and Brendan McKay to end the frame.
From that point on, Eshelman kept the Tampa Bay bats quiet. Between the second and fifth innings, the rookie allowed just two singles and faced only one batter over the minimum thanks to a third-inning double play. It was an impressive showing from a guy with a fastball that topped out around 87 mph. His final line: five innings, two runs, six hits, one walk and zero strikeouts.
Meanwhile, the Orioles hitters were having their own struggles. They had managed a walk and a single in the first inning against Ryne Stanek, and then a double in the third inning against Ryan Yarbrough. But none of it was enough to breakthrough.
The Birds finally put a run on the board in the fourth inning. Dwight Smith Jr. led off the inning with a walk, and made his way to third base on a Renato Nunez bloop single to right field, which took a weird hop before being corralled by Garcia. Later, a weak Hanser Alberto liner found its way through the infield to drive Smith in to score and make it a 2-1 deficit.
In the fifth, the O’s may have been en route to a rally, but Jonathan Villar was thrown out trying to steal second base for the first out of the inning, squashing all chances of that. The umpire’s call was challenged, and the replay is difficult to see. Did Villar’s hand reach the bag before the tag hit him in the chest? Probably. But it certainly wasn’t clear, and therefore the call on the field must stand.
That wasn’t quite the end of Baltimore’s offensive efforts. In fact, they even put Eshelman in a position to get the win on his debut with their efforts in the top of the sixth inning.
Nunez opened things with a double against former Oriole Chaz Roe. Then Roe uncorked a wild pitch to move Nunez 90 feet closer to scoring. Pedro Severino came through shortly thereafter with a ground ball single to right field, driving in Nunez. Severino advanced to second on an Alberto fielder’s choice and then scored himself with some aggressive base-running during a pinch hit single by Rio Ruiz, making it a 3-2 Orioles lead.
That is when things got ugly. Eshelman was lifted from the game after 75 pitches and a successful MLB debut. It was all up to the Orioles bullpen to hold the lead, and they just could not handle it.
Branden Kline was brought in for the sixth inning, and he immediately fell apart. Without recording an out, the right-hander allowed three runs on two hits, one walk and a massive Kevin Kiermaier home run.
Miguel Castro was next. After escaping a mess of his own making in what was left of the sixth inning, Castro got into more trouble in the seventh. He issued a one-out walk to Diaz on four totally noncompetitive pitches. Then Choi went against the shift with a single to left field to bring Diaz home after he had stolen second base. Just like that, the Orioles went from up 3-2 to down 6-3 in less than two innings.
Jimmy Yacabonis came on to pitch the eighth inning and actually looked quite good, striking out two in a perfect frame. But the damage had already been done. The Orioles were behind and unlikely to come back.
The O’s went 1-for-10 in the game’s final three innings. A Villar double in the ninth inning was their lone hit. Anthony Santander did reach base on an error in the seventh, but he erased himself by being thrown out trying to steal on what was another questionable call by the base ump.
It was an anticlimactic, but expected, end to what could have been a storybook day for the rookie Eshelman. Welcome to the 2019 Orioles, kid! If you stick around long, you will get used to losing.
These two teams will face off again on Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. The Rays have announced all-star Charlie Morton (8-2, 2.43 ERA) as their starter. The Orioles do not have anything official just yet, but the speculation is that newly acquired Asher Wojciechowski (8-2, 3.61 ERA in Triple-A) will get the nod.