Some games are decided almost from when the umpire says, “Play ball!” The Orioles played one of them on Friday night. Starting pitcher Bruce Zimmermann got bombed in the early innings, the Orioles offense didn’t collect a hit until the sixth, and they got nothing going until the eighth inning. Neither Adley Rutschman’s t-shirt giveaway night nor the Friday fireworks provided any positive karmic boost. Their late rally was too little, too late, and so they lost, 6-3, to the Guardians to open this three-game set.
Zimmermann needed a good start to regain some positive momentum after his last couple of outings in Boston and New York, in which he allowed an unsightly nine home runs across the two games. Give Zimmermann this: He avoided giving up any more home runs on Friday night. This did not help him pitch any better.
The Guardians were on Zimmermann almost instantly. He retired his first batter on one pitch and it all went downhill from there. Cleveland started ripping rockets. A pair of hits set up the Guardians with runners on second and third and only one man out. Cleanup hitter Owen Miller cracked another hard line drive off of a Zimmermann pitch. This went almost right at third baseman Tyler Nevin, but his reaction was not quick enough to make the catch. The ball ricocheted into left field and Cleveland took an early 2-0 lead.
The top of the Cleveland lineup came back around to lead off the third inning and they picked up right where they left off against Zimmermann. Two singles by Myles Straw and José Ramírez put men on the corners for Miller. The second baseman hit a sinking liner that fell just in front of a diving Cedric Mullins. The ball bounced into, and then forward out of, Mullins’s glove.
By the time Mullins got up, collected the ball, and threw a two-hopper home, both runners had scored. Cleveland’s next hitter, Josh Naylor, added a single to score Miller, the fifth Guardians run. That’s all that Cleveland ended up getting against Zimmermann, but, you know, that’s a lot of runs.
When Bruce hit the showers for the night, he’d given up ten hits in 5.2 innings, allowing the five runs, all earned. Although he didn’t walk anybody, he only struck out one. His ERA for the season now sits at 4.87. In past years, that’s within shouting distance of acceptable. In 2022, it is not.
While this was going on, the Orioles offense was doing... nothing. Cleveland’s starting pitcher was two-time All-Star and one-time Cy Young winner Shane Bieber. He showed that his pedigree is better than the Orioles, holding the Birds hitless until Trey Mancini finally broke up the party with two outs in the sixth inning. Most games like that will end poorly, and sure enough, this one did.
By the time the Orioles chased Bieber in the eighth inning, Bieber was protecting a 6-0 lead. A sixth Cleveland run crossed the plate in the seventh inning; reliever Denyi Reyes, thought of as a candidate to start on Sunday, was used for two innings here instead, allowing a run on four hits. As for Bieber, he struck out eleven batters while allowing just three hits. Two of those three hits happened leading off the eighth, with bottom of the order bats Rougned Odor and Nevin starting a never-expected rally that sent Bieber packing.
Presented with a chance at Cleveland’s bullpen, the Orioles - or at least a couple of the Orioles - did not miss. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch, giving Trey Mancini an opportunity with two men in scoring position. He doubled to drive in both of them, finally putting the Orioles on the board. Anthony Santander drove in Mancini with a single, scoring a third O’s run. However, the rally stopped there. Austin Hays had a chance to extend a 13-game hitting streak. He struck out instead.
Had the Orioles gotten a man or two on base in the ninth inning, things might have gotten interesting. They went quietly instead. To be fair to the Orioles, they were facing Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase, who can throw pitches that register at 101mph on the Statcast radar gun. That’s 13 miles per hour beyond where Doc Brown told Marty McFly that he’d see some serious shit. The 101mph shit is even more serious. On Friday, it was seriously unhittable. Clase got Ryan Mountcastle to ground out, then struck out Rutschman and Odor to end the game.
With the loss, the Orioles fall to 22-32 on the season. They’re also 1-3 in the first four games of this eight-game homestand. It’s already feeling like June won’t be their month to break that streak of non-winning months that’s run since August 2017. The starting pitching is not good and the offense is not good either. They are on pace for a 66-96 record, which would still feel okay at season’s end, after what we’ve seen lately. If they can stay on that pace.
The series resumes on Saturday afternoon with a 4:05 scheduled start. There will be no rest for the weary Orioles offense, as they’re going up against Triston McKenzie and his 2.65 ERA. What do you think it would be like to have a starting pitcher with a sub-3.00 ERA in June? Okay, fine, John Means had a sub-3.00 ERA after a June start last year, when that was more impressive, then he got hurt and missed six weeks, so we didn’t get to enjoy it for long.
As for the Orioles, it’s time for another test for the Tyler Wells starting pitcher experiment. He’s coming off a month of May where he pitched to a 2.93 ERA while holding batters to a .579 OPS against him. The team is probably going to need another good outing to have a chance.