This one was a study in contrasts. A surging Tampa Bay got six innings of one-run ball from a 41-year-old pitcher in his 17th season and racked up 18 hits against an Orioles staff sleepwalking through its worst stretch of the season.
Meanwhile, the floundering Orioles turned to two rookies who pitched three innings apiece, surrendering six runs between them—not to mention a position player in the ninth inning—and their bats barely scratched Rays starter Rich Hill and his cagey old man stuff.
When Rich Hill made his first MLB start in July 2005, Dean Kremer was nine years old. Hill’s fastball now sits 85-88 mph, but he knows what to do with his tools, especially a big curveball that drew a lot of swings-and-misses and weak contact from Orioles hitters today. Meanwhile, Kremer has made all of 12 starts in his career, nine of them against the AL East, the only division in the MLB with four teams over .500 right now. That’s brutal. The righty is making his adjustments. But the Rays are not a nice team to practice your stuff on.
Some of Kremer’s experiments worked today. The righty has been shy with his changeup, which he throws less than 6% of the time, but today, against a lefty-heavy lineup, Kremer went to it early and often. And the pitch looked good! It drew some big whiffs to help Kremer escape the first and a punishing second. I hope we’ll see more of it.
Other experiments didn’t end quite as well. It’s cool that Kremer can throw his 12-6 curveball for strike one. But in the second inning, he threw three in a row to Joey Wendle, who dangerously fouled off the second one before sending the third over the center field wall. Not so cool.
That same inning, Kremer’s fastball command seemed to leave him. That led to a Tampa Bay single, a walk, and a very unwelcome three-run bomb from Randy Arozarena, the Rays’ tenth dinger of the series. Quickly, the O’s were in a 4-0 hole.
Kremer wriggled out of the third after loading the bases with a one-out double, a Freddy Galvis error, and a walk. It was gutsy, but his stuff looked shaky enough that you couldn’t question Brandon Hyde’s decision to yank him after just three innings. It wasn’t the start that this taxed and lately inconsistent bullpen needed.
In came the lefty Keegan Akin in his place. It wasn’t a terrible day for him, but it wasn’t great, either. Although Akin is a guy known for throwing strikes, he too, struggled a bit with command today. He walked Ji-Man Choi in the fourth (Choi’s third today), and went to 3-2 against Brandon Lowe before landing a huge fastball at the top of the zone to draw the punchout.
Back at the plate, Orioles hitters were doing frustratingly little against Rich Hill. Hill’s control was somewhat off today, with three early walks, but the Orioles made only weak contact. They didn’t have a hit against Hill until the fourth inning.
That first hit was a big one, though. The hot Trey Mancini, down 0-2 in the count, took a third consecutive fastball and drove it into the stands. It was his tenth dinger of the season and 39th RBI. That made it 4-1, but the Orioles wouldn’t get any closer. Ryan McKenna, author of the Orioles’ only other hit, also had a nice day at the plate, reaching two more times with a pair of walks.
Meanwhile, after a nice two-strikeout fifth inning for Akin, the Rays padded their lead with three straight singles against the lefty and a sac fly in the sixth. It’s not so much that Akin looked bad as that the Rays are good. Randy Arozarena, Austin Meadows, and Ji-Man Choi all took difficult pitches and did something with them. What are you going to do? Two more runs were in, and the Orioles were down 6-1.
Travis Lakins Sr. didn’t have an answer for the Rays, either, but he’s a little more worrying right now. Lakins has allowed a run in his last three appearances, and five of his last seven. Today he allowed three runs on four hits and a walk in the seventh, but Hyde left him in to finish the inning because … well, after last night’s mess, who else are you going to put in?
Dr. Poo Poo, that’s who! (Before him, César Valdez pitched a weird eighth, allowing a walk and two straight singles with two outs before drawing one of the funniest K’s I’ve ever seen against Ji-Man Choi, who flung his bat past first base.) The newly called-up Stevie Wilkerson pitched an absurd ninth inning, throwing nothing but 45-mph eephus pitches, drawing fans’ loudest cheers of the game before Joey Wendle took one deep. Wilkerson also drew a lot of sheepish grins from the Rays. It’s fun, until you remember that it means that our team is very bad. After the inning, Wilkerson sat chatting in the dugout with pitching coach Darren Holmes and Matt Harvey. What I wouldn’t give to hear that conversation…
It was at some point in the seventh inning, with the Orioles down 8-1, that announcers Scott Garceau and Ben McDonald started to muse over whether Tampa Bay or New York would take the AL East this year. One day, the Orioles will be in that conversation.
But definitely not this year.