A nightmarish sixth inning ruined Grayson Rodriguez’s start, and the Orioles’ lack of offense sunk any hopes of a comeback in their 4-1 loss in Toronto on Wednesday night.
Perhaps the most important takeaway from this game is that Rodriguez was really good again, better than his final line would indicate. His fastball had its best velocity, averaging 98.5 mph, which he maintained throughout the evening. He induced a healthy number of whiffs, leading to six strikeouts. And once again he didn’t allow any home runs. The kid is figuring it out!
Prior to the sixth inning, Rodriguez had given up just one run. That came in the fourth, when Brandon Belt doubled and then came in to score on a single from George Springer that came off the bat at a measly 68.2 mph. It fell in front of centerfielder Ryan McKenna to give the Jays a brief lead at the time.
George Springer opens the scoring! pic.twitter.com/pnnUaKItCW— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) August 3, 2023
The area where you can knit pick on Rodriguez is that he ran out of gas in the sixth inning. After retiring the first two batters of the inning he issued a walk to Belt and lost a 10-pitch battle with Vlad Guerrero Jr. for another walk. That ended his day and set off the sequence of events that ultimately cost the Orioles the game.
Shintaro Fujinami was summoned from the bullpen, and seemingly left his ability to find the strike zone behind. He walked Springer on four pitches to load the bases, then he hit Matt Chapman to score a run, and followed that up by plunking Danny Jansen to bring in another. To cap it all off, once Fujinami did find the strike zone it resulted in a routine groundball that shortstop Jorge Mateo booted to allow the third run of the inning to cross the plate.
In that entire sequence, the Blue Jays put just one ball in play, and it didn’t even leave the infield, and yet they scored three times.
The book closed on Rodriguez after Fujinami allowed both inherited runners to score. That gave him a final line of 5.2 innings, two hits, three runs (all earned), two walks, and six strikeouts. It looks solid, but he did pitch even better. So at least we have that silver lining.
It sure looks like Fujinami is going to be your standard reliever that oscillates between dominance and disaster. Right now, Brandon Hyde is deploying him as the high-leverage arm in the bullpen that pitches when they really need an out and it’s too early to call on Félix Bautista. It’s going to be a crapshoot as to how often that works out. Tonight, it didn’t.
Moving on to the Orioles offense, there isn’t a whole lot to say. It was a bad night for them. They scored just once, and it happened in a fluky manner.
In the top of the fifth, James McCann opened with a single that center fielder Kevin Kiermaier played into a double. After moving to third, McCann trotted home on an Adley Rutschman grounder to the right side that second baseman Whit Merrifield gathered. But the placement of the grounder also pulled Belt away from his post at first base. Blue Jays starter Yusei Kikuchi forgot to cover the bag, handing Rutschman both a single and an RBI.
And that was it! Ryan Mountcastle continued his assault on the nation of Canada with two singles, two walks, and a stolen base. The Orioles as a team outhit the Blue Jays 7-3, but they went just 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position. That’s not gonna get it done most nights.
The final third of the game tarnished what felt somewhat promising early on. It was a terrible night for Fujinami, and the Orioles offense just never figured it out, even once Kikuchi was lifted. The Blue Jays bullpen tossed three shutout innings and struck out four.
Fortunately, the Yankees beat the Rays 7-2 tonight, so the Orioles 1.5-game lead in the AL East remains. There is still one game left in this series, so the Orioles may yet take the series, and with the Rays off on Thursday there is the opportunity to stretch the division lead.
That final game is a Thursday matinee in which the newest Oriole, pitcher Jack Flaherty (7-6, 4.43 ERA) will make his club debut. He will be matched up against former Oriole Kevin Gausman (8-5, 3.10 ERA). First pitch is 3:07 on MASN locally and MLB Network nationally.