For seven innings, this was a tightly pitched starters’ duel between Cincinnati’s Andrew Abbott and our own Tyler Wells. Both pitchers brought their sharpest stuff, going six innings with seven-plus strikeouts and four or fewer hits allowed.
Then, a 1 hr. 43-minute rain delay. The game resumed close to 11 pm, Bryan Baker allowed a solo homer to put the Orioles down 3-1, and that was enough to sew up the game. Sorry if you sat through the rain delay to see that ending.
The headliner here was rookie left-hander Andrew Abbott and his commanding performance. Abbott looks like Breaking Bad’s Todd Alquist, and also like a mighty tough at-bat. He’s got a heater nicknamed the “Invisiball” and a sweeper that looks similar out of the hand but is about 10 mph slower, built for drawing lots of weak swings.
It worked, too. The only Oriole who could figure out Abbott was Jordan Westburg, all of two games into his big-league career. Westy got a hit in a big situation, squaring up a hanging curve in the second inning that allowed Aaron Hicks (aboard with a walk) to go from first to third. Westburg’s hit set up Ryan McKenna for a crucial sac fly, the only run the O’s could plate off the Reds left-hander.
It was a huge game for Westburg, who’d get a second hit off Abbott to break up a perfect fourth, the only two hits Abbott would allow. Westburg also reached again in the seventh, working a walk off reliever Lucas Sims just before the rain set in. Impressive. So far, the poise, batting eye and the glove all come as advertised.
Tyler Wells nearly matched Abbott’s effort, but for maybe two bad pitches. The stuff looked excellent tonight: Wells’ changeup was almost like a curveball, it had so much sink, and his fastball was hitting 94 on the radar. He also unfurled a curveball so loopy and big that the booth’s Jim Palmer compared it to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar skyhook.
Wells retired the first nine Reds in order. Four of those were strikeouts, five were outfield fly balls. “Good day to be an infielder,” quipped MASN’s Kevin Brown.
The first Red to reach was centerfielder TJ Friedl, dropping a perfect bunt in the fourth with two strikes. The Reds’ young shortstop Matt McLain smashed a fastball to the wall in center, over Aaron Hicks’ head, who didn’t play it well, allowing Friedl to tie up the game all the way from first.
McLain proved his love for the high heater with another smash in the sixth, a solo home run (Wells’ 19th allowed) that made it 2-1. Wells would close out the inning, then exit. This is becoming a Wells signature: six or so innings, a handful of hits, two earned runs, and a solo home run or more. Is this a problem? Jim Palmer staunchly opined, “I don’t have a problem with the way he pitched.” Okay, then neither do we.
Keegan Akin pitched a brilliant seventh, with a swinging strikeout of Joey Votto that could very well become a career highlight for him.
The seventh inning saw Reds reliever Lucas Sims allow three runners on via two walks and one HBP, but Cedric Mullins (pinch-hitting for McKenna) was thrown out trying to steal. It was a big momentum killer, and the Birds couldn’t get anyone across.
The weather butted in at that point, raining out the eighth. It was almost two hours later that the Birds got their third hit of the game, a double smoked to the gap by Gunnar Henderson. But it came with two outs, and Aaron Hicks came just a couple of feet short of a game-tying home run.
The Orioles made some noise with two outs against closer Alexis Díaz in the ninth, as Ryan O’Hearn got plunked and Adam Frazier walked. Austin Hays made solid contact, but his flyout was reeled in deep in centerfield, and that was all she wrote.
Tomorrow is a clash of the veterans, as Kyle Gibson faces off against Luke Weaver (1-2, 6.86 ERA). Maybe the offense can find more punch against Weaver than they did against a tough lefty tonight.