Do rain-postponed starts mess with a starter? Announcer Jim Palmer thinks they do, and after Friday night’s matchup against the Chicago White Sox was rained out, both starters looked off-kilter in Game 1 of a Saturday doubleheader. Though the Orioles put up four runs on a trio of home runs against 2015 AL Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel, it wasn’t enough to overcome yet another setback for the Matt Harvey Redemption Tour. The righty allowed five runs in just three innings and a wild and ineffective Shawn Armstrong let a tight game get out of hand for the Orioles’ eleventh consecutive loss.
It was a weird day for Harvey. He’d make some outstanding pitches, especially a running two-seamer that reached 96 mph and a diving slider that looked unhittable, then he’d walk people and leave stupid pitches over the plate. He pitched two fine innings but his command left him in the third. He retired six batters on strikeouts, but faced just 18 hitters on the day. Jim Palmer surmised that Harvey was flying open early and falling out of his windup. Could be. I don’t have the chops to question Jim Palmer.
The Orioles staked their starter with an early run when when Freddy Galvis drove an elevated Keuchel changeup into the center field bleachers. Anthony Santander, hitting .423 the last week, also chipped in a two-out double, but he was stranded.
It was an ominous sign for Harvey when Tim Anderson took the first pitch of the game and drove it into center field for a double. Then again, the run that scored that inning was just as much the fault of home plate ump Angel Hernández’s erratic strike zone as Harvey’s. True, Harvey benefited against the next batter, Yasmani Grandal, from a ridiculous gift of a strike three call on a slider that was diving and cool but totally inside. But what Hernández giveth, Hernández taketh away. He denied Harvey several close calls that led to a Yoan Moncada walk, and failed to call a clear strike three against last year’s AL MVP José Abreu, a beautiful 96-mph fastball on the corner. It should have been out No. 2. Instead, Abreu stroked a single to tie the game. “Whatever you say, Mr. Hernández,” as Jim Palmer later said. Harvey bit down for a fly ball and a strikeout to end the inning.
The Orioles made more noise against Keuchel in the second but failed to score. The highlight was Tyler Nevin, who hit a ground-rule double in his very first major league at-bat—on his birthday! His friends and family, in attendance, duly cheered. Welcome to the big leagues, Tyler!
In the second, Harvey overcame a leadoff roller between Galvis and Maikel Franco that should remind us that, for all this team isn’t making many errors, our infielders have very little range. Who needs infield defense, though: Harvey powered through the inning with two strikeouts and a fly ball.
But alas, he lost himself in the third. Harvey walked the leadoff man, went 3-2 to the second hitter, shook off two pitch suggestions from Severino, and then threw a fastball way inside to walk him anyway. That brought up Abreu who, if you’ve forgotten, was the 2020 AL MVP. Not a good spot to be in. Down 2-1, Harvey’s 95-mph fastball certainly found the strike zone, but Abreu sprayed it into right field to drive home two more runs. Harvey reared back with another K on a fine fastball, but he left another heater down the middle that lefty Jake Lamb blasted into the stands for two more runs. Harvey escaped the inning with a fly ball and also froze Leury García with a huge breaking ball for his sixth strikeout in three innings. That’s cool, but also kind of random when your team is down 5-1.
The Orioles, to their credit, kept chipping away at the lead. In the fourth, Maikel Franco teed off on a funny hanging slider, and Ryan Mountcastle followed with a ball deep into the right-field corner that the big guy legged out without hesitation for a triple. His hand looks OK to me! Mountcastle scored on a Pat Valaika groundout to make it 5-3. Tyler Nevin—killing it in his MLB debut—walked, but he was stranded.
In the fifth inning, the Birds got one more back when Freddy Galvis went deep, his second dinger of the day. It was a 5-4 game now, and things might have gone differently if our bullpen was better.
Today’s loss was not the fault of Travis Lakins Sr. or Tanner Scott. Neither was pretty today, but at least they were effective. I wasn’t pleased to see Lakins come in in the fourth with a runner on. Or to see the runner attempt a steal and Severino throw a ball into center to put the runner on third. I was even less pleased to see Lakins walk Yasmani Grandal, hitting all of .141. Fortunately, it didn’t matter: Lakins got two straight K’s to end the inning.
With one out in the fifth, Tanner Scott came in to face the lefty Jake Lamb, author of the White Sox’s home run. As usual, the question wasn’t whether Scott would be wild so much as how wild he would be. Scott went down 3-1 against Lamb before the outfielder stroked a single. The White Sox put in the speedy pinch-runner Billy Hamilton. Would Hamilton steal? He wouldn’t need to: Scott bounced a slider that ran away from Severino—more bad defense from our starting catcher. Scott then walked the next hitter. Seeming to lose his fastball again, Scott threw nothing but sliders to the Sox’s No. 9 hitter, Nick Madrigal. It was enough for an inning-ending groundout. “He never makes it easy,” said Jim Palmer. So true.
But the villain of this piece, the way I’m writing it, anyway, was Shawn Armstrong. Not only was Armstrong wild, but these days his pitches are not breaking the way they used to. Armstrong walked the leadoff man on five pitches. He got a flyball out but had already gone down 3-2 against the hitter, and you weren’t feeling good. Next, Armstrong threw a flat cutter to Yoan Moncada and poof, that ball was out of here, and a 5-4 game was now a three-run deficit. For an encore, Armstrong allowed a one-out double and almost beaned Yermin Mercedes, to huge boos from the Chicago crowd. A strikeout and popout mercifully ended the 31-pitch inning.
The Orioles went down quietly in the sixth and seventh innings, so an eleven-game losing streak lives to fight—hopefully not another day. The team desperately needs a shutdown outing from its ace and to scrape together some offense somewhere against a difficult Lance Lynn in Game 2.