Tonight, a piece of the Orioles’ future — potentially a big piece of the Orioles’ future — made his much-anticipated major league debut.
In a perfect world, Ryan Mountcastle would’ve been welcomed to Baltimore by thousands of raucous, cheering fans at Camden Yards, rather than a sad snippet of pre-recorded crowd noise on the PA system. That didn’t happen, thanks to COVID-19.
And in a perfect world, Mountcastle’s debut would’ve sparked an inspiring, feel-good, victory from a Orioles ball club in desperate need of one.
That also didn’t happen. Because the 2020 Orioles might just be beyond saving.
The Orioles’ losing streak stretched to six games with another lamentable loss to the last-place Red Sox, 8-5, as a huge early hole proved too deep to dig out of.
Let’s get to the good stuff first, starting with Mountcastle leading the Orioles out of the dugout in the top of the first...only, they weren’t exactly following him.
Oh, you pranksters.
In the bottom of the second inning, Mountcastle stepped to the plate for the first time as a big leaguer. So how did that first at-bat go for Ryan Mountcastle, the guy that’s good at everything offensively except taking a walk? The guy who has faced questions in the minors about his lack of plate discipline? The guy with the 4.3% percent walk rate last year? The guy...OK, I think you see where I’m going with this.
Yes, Ryan Mountcastle drew a walk in his first plate appearance in the major leagues! He fell behind in the count 1-2 to Colten Brewer, but fouled off a pitch and then patiently took the next three out of the strike zone for the free pass. Woo! 1.000 OBP, baby! If he retired right now, that’d be a record. (Don’t retire right now, please.)
Mountcastle’s second plate appearance wasn’t nearly as successful. With a runner aboard and one out in the fourth, Mountcastle swung at all three pitches from Brewer, fouling off one and whiffing on the other two, for a quick strikeout. Welp.
That at-bat, sadly, was fairly representative of the entire lineup’s approach against Brewer on this night. When the game began, MASN broadcasters Kevin Brown and Ben McDonald talked about how Brewer was likely just being used as an opener — as he’s made only one previous start in 77 career MLB appearances — and is prone to walking a lot of hitters (5.6 career walks per nine). And, indeed, a better team might have been able to string together some rallies against Brewer and get him out of the game after maybe two innings.
The Orioles were not that team. Brewer dominated them so thoroughly that he was able to work four full innings, the longest outing of his career. His control problems didn’t really materialize; he did issue two free passes, but threw 50 of his 71 pitches for strikes. Colten Brewer was just supposed to be a stopgap until a better solution came along; instead, he was the solution, thanks to the Orioles’ inept offense.
By the way, is there a pitcher on the Brewers named Colten Red Sox? These are the things I think about.
Back to Mountcastle, whose third at-bat came in the sixth against rookie lefty Darwinzon Hernandez. He saw two pitches and took a big swing at each, missing the first one and lining the second one to Kevin Pillar in right field for a flyout.
Beyond Mountcastle, there’s little to say about the first six innings of this game, which weren’t the least bit competitive. Making the start for the Orioles was John Means, who was only ticketed to pitch three or four innings as the O’s continue to ramp up his workload. Means showed flashes of his excellent 2019 self — including a perfect, six-pitch first inning in which he dialed up his fastball to 95 mph — but was victimized by a pair of home runs, a Xander Bogaerts solo shot in the second and a J.D. Martinez two-run blast in the third. Means exited the game after three innings and 44 pitches, giving up four hits and three runs. His season ERA is 10.13.
Once long reliever Jorge Lopez got involved, things got out of hand. He coughed up a three-run homer to Rafael Devers in the fifth, then a Michael Chavis two-run single through a drawn-in infield in the sixth. That made it an 8-0 game. “Yeah, not a whole lot going right for the Orioles,” lamented McDonald after yet another Red Sox hit. That could easily summarize this entire week of O’s baseball.
That 8-0 deficit continued into the bottom of the seventh, when the Orioles finally began to make noise. Against veteran lefty Josh Osich — who was an Oriole for about a month in spring training 2019 — the Birds bashed back-to-back home runs by Pat Valaika and, surprisingly, Cedric Mullins, with each landing in nearly the same section in the empty left-field seats. Mullins’ blast was his first in the bigs since 2018 and his first ever as a right-handed hitter.
The following inning, the Orioles again rallied, with Mountcastle playing a prominent part. With one on and two out, Mountcastle worked Osich for an eight-pitch at-bat, swatting several loud foul balls, before Osich gave up and threw ball four. That’s two walks for Mountcastle! As Brown pointed out on MASN, Mountcastle had only two games all last season at Triple-A — out of 127 — in which he drew two walks. And now he’s done it in his first MLB game.
The next batter, Chance Sisco, made Osich pay, swatting an opposite-field, three-run homer to left. Just like that, the Orioles’ once eight-run deficit was shaved to 8-5.
Unfortunately, it was too little, too late, and the O’s couldn’t make up the rest of the gap. Despite the Red Sox having traded closer Brandon Workman in the middle of the game, Matt Barnes capably filled in for the ninth, allowing a leadoff bunt single to Mullins (who is quietly hitting .324, by the way) before setting down the next three hitters in order.
With that, the Orioles fell to two games under .500 and no end in sight to their precipitous skid. Welcome to the bigs, Ryan. It might be a long year.