Another strong start. And this time, a strong finish as well.
After the Orioles suffered a difficult loss in the first game of a doubleheader with Kansas City, during which they allowed an eighth-inning lead to slip away, they bounced back in the nightcap to take an early lead, never give it up, and then put the finishing touches on a 4-2 victory over the Royals.
Bruce Zimmermann started and was terrific. Anyone bracing for Zimmermann to come back down to earth after a strong start to the season will have to wait another five days. The lefty was efficient, tossing six innings on 85 pitches, and he was effective, striking out five and allowing five hits and two runs for his second quality start of the season. He’s now 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA for the year.
It was the sort of performance you love to see from a starter. Given a sizeable lead - we’ll get to that in a second - Zimmermann just didn’t let the door open too much for the Royals. Sure, they dented him a bit, getting a run in the second (not his fault, Tyler Nevin just doesn’t know where the right field wall is) and sixth, but Zimmermann never had to dodge trouble much.
He retired nine straight between the second and fourth innings, got two easy outs after an MJ Melendez double in the fifth, and got a flyout from the (normally) dangerous Whit Merrifield to prevent any further damage. It was a stress-free outing, which he has been able to deliver with consistency this first month and change of the season.
Of course, it helps to pitch with a lead, and the Orioles made sure he had one. Rather than stew over the afternoon’s frustration and disappointment, Baltimore went to work early in the nightcap, opening with a leadoff single from Cedric Mullins and then an infield single from Trey Mancini.
After Mullins stole third and Mancini took second after the ball slipped from Melendez’s grasp behind the plate, Austin Hays drew a walk to load the bases with no outs. The Royals were left wishing they had Salvador Perez behind the plate when a pitch glanced off of Melendez’s glove with Ryan Mountcastle up and went all the way to the backstop for a befuddling passed ball, allowing Mullins to score easily for a 1-0 lead.
The rally continued when Mountcastle hit a pitch just above his fists into center field for a single, scoring Mancini for a 2-0 lead. Ramon Urias followed with a fly ball to right, allowing Hays to score easily for a nice 3-0 advantage out of the gate.
The Orioles continued to threaten, putting men on base each inning and getting a runner in scoring position when Hays doubled to lead off the inning, but they had to wait until the fifth - and after starting it with two outs, even - to add to their lead.
By then, Kansas City had cut the gap to 3-1, but Urias ripped a double down the left field line to put a runner in scoring position. Nevin, who misjudged a fly ball to right by Hunter Dozier that ended up falling and going for a triple to set up the Royals’ first run, then rapped a single up the middle, bringing in Urias for a 4-1 lead.
Perez doubled and scored on a single by Dozier to make it 4-2 in the sixth and Zimmermann’s final inning, but the bullpen this time was ready to salt it away. Keegan Akin pitched two tidy innings, striking out two and getting through on only 15 pitches to lower his season ERA to 1.96.
From there, it was Dillon Tate’s turn to get a rare crack at closing, and the right-hander looked just as good as his predecessors. Perez led off with a single to surely get some O’s fans’ heart rates up, but Dozier struck out, Merrifield flew out, and Tate then got Emmanuel Rivera swinging for the win.
Give the O’s credit. Yes, the Royals are 9-16. They stink. But Baltimore had to turn right back around and play after being deflated by the afternoon’s events. Not an easy spot, and they took care of business. If you’re a fan, you’ve got to like what you saw.
Who was tonight’s Most Birdland Player?
This poll is closed
Bruce Zimmermann (W, 6 IP, 2 R, 5 Ks)
Ramon Urias (1-for-3, 2B, R, RBI)
Austin Hays (1-for-3, BB, 2B, R)
Ryan Mountcastle (1-for-4, RBI, SB, somehow didn’t break ankle sliding into second)