ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - While the buzz continues surrounding Triple-A center fielder Cedric Mullins and his anticipated arrival in Baltimore, perhaps on the upcoming homestand, maybe as early as the weekend, Joey Rickard is fighting to hold onto his roster spot.
He’s gotten used to it, his minor league options always placing him on the bubble. But give him more games against the Rays and he’d become immovable.
Plucked from Tampa Bay’s organization in the 2015 Rule 5 draft, Rickard appears to hold a grudge whenever he’s gripping the bat. His first career triple tonight in the second inning produced two runs and continued his assault on the Rays, and Renato Núñez homered in the seventh inning to break a tie.
Navigating through the late innings with a newer, more inexperienced bullpen will continue to challenge the Orioles. Rickard can only do so much for them. He isn’t ready to change roles.
Jake Bauers delivered a two-run single in the bottom of the seventh after Cody Carroll loaded the bases with two outs, and the Orioles lost to the Rays 5-4 at Tropicana Field.
The Orioles went 3-6 on the road trip and are 35-80. Their 80th loss last season came on Sept. 20.
Carroll allowed a leadoff single to Willy Adames and walked Mallex Smith and Matt Duffy with two outs. Bauers lined his single into right field and a 4-3 lead evaporated.
Tonight marked Carroll’s third appearance with the Orioles since the Zach Britton trade with the Yankees. He hadn’t allowed a run in two innings.
Núñez drove a Yonny Chirinos slider an estimated 425 feet to left field leading off the top of the seventh for his second home run with the Orioles. The ball landed above the exposed seats and bounced off the tarp.
Rookie David Hess fell an out short of a quality start, allowing three runs and four hits in 5 2/3 innings. He retired the first eight batters before a pair of walks and Duffy’s run-scoring double, with Jonathan Villar’s relay nailing Smith at the plate. Ji-Man Choi hit a solo home run with two outs in the fourth to reduce the lead to 3-2.
Trey Mancini made a fine running catch of Bauers’ fly ball into the left field corner in the sixth, but the sacrifice fly after back-to-back singles tied the game.
Back-to-back two-out walks hurt Hess in the third and Carroll in the seventh. Let that be a lesson.
Rickard drove his two-run triple into left-center field in the second inning after Mancini singled and Chris Davis reached on a roller up the third base line. He also singled in the seventh.
As Rickard rounded first base, he became 12-for-26 with three doubles, a triple, three home runs and 15 RBIs in eight games against the Rays this season. He scored his ninth run on catcher Austin Wynns’ single in the second, which gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead.
Fifteen of Rickard’s 20 RBIs this season have come against the Rays. He entered tonight’s game with a .212 average, but manager Buck Showalter gave him the start in center field while resting Adam Jones. A three-man bench limits the alternatives, but Rickard versus the Rays should be an easy call.
Wynns had seven hits and six RBIs in his last 13 at-bats after lining his single into right-center field.
Hunter Wood was done after two innings and 34 pitches, with Chirinos replacing him as expected. Chirinos allowed one hit in four scoreless innings before Núñez’s home run.
Hess followed a seven-pitch second inning with a 23-pitch third. He rebounded from Choi’s homer in the fourth by striking out the side in the fifth, but the singles, sacrifice fly and two-out walk to Choi ended his night. He remains stuck on two major league wins, both against the Rays.
Donnie Hart stranded two runners and would have earned the win after facing only one batter, but Carroll couldn’t hold the lead and the Orioles fell to 15-45 on the road.
They didn’t commit an error, so the night wasn’t a total loss.
Showalter on Carroll: “His command. It’s a young guy finding his way, a couple steps forward, a step back. He’ll learn from it. He’s got a good arm. I really like his competitiveness. I don’t know. Got to come up with a better expression than ‘not scared.’ But he’s a confident guy. He’ll learn from it. I expect him to be better the next time out. I try to keep in mind - and I think we all should - that these guys are making major league debuts and kind of seeing things for the first time. So, I try to keep that in mind. But they’re going to get a great opportunity here.”
Showalter on back-to-back two-out walks: “It’s just a lesson that you’ve got to keep your foot on the pedal because guys that are hitting ninth here are hitting third in Triple-A, and guys on the bench are hitting third and fourth in Triple-A. So, there’s danger everywhere you go. His balls-to-strikes weren’t as good as you might think they were the way (Hess) cruised. Got hurt with his changeup tonight, too. Elevated some changeups. It’s not just a young pitcher trying to grow through some things - a couple of them tonight - but also young catchers.”
Showalter on whether to grade on a curve with young pitchers: “I try to keep that in mind, but the competitive part of it from an organization and from a team standpoint, but like I said before, my goal here is to do what’s best for the Orioles every day and for our organization as we go forward. And there will be some really good feelings about what could be and what’s going to be, and there will be some times where you know you’re going to go through some growing pains.”
Núñez on what he’s shown: “The last couple games I’ve been feeling pretty good at the plate. Since I got here, I’ve just been trying to do my job, try to take the (opportunity) the team has given to me, do well and, hopefully, stay here.”
Núñez on home run: “Yeah, yeah. I hit it pretty well. Yefry (Ramírez) was telling me he was pushing for that homer because since I got here I haven’t hit one. So, I got one today. That was good.”
Núñez on disappointment of losing lead so fast: “Yes, even if you do well, you always want to win. We lost, so we’re disappointed. So, hopefully, tomorrow we get a good start against the Red Sox and get the W.”
Núñez on getting a chance: “I just try to do my job. I just try to play hard and give 100 percent on the field. I’ve been practicing. I’ve been taking a lot of ground balls with Mr. (Bobby) Dickerson and I’ve been hitting a lot in the cage, too. I just try to play hard and try to stick here.”
Hess on whether he made progress: “In between starts I got together with Roger (McDowell). I looked at some video with Buck and Roger. We really just kind of addressed some things that needed to be addressed.
“A little bit of a challenge was issued, basically saying that, ‘Hey, you’re better than this. Go out and kind of let that show.’ So, tonight was a step in that direction, but still not where we want to be just yet.”
Hess on his outing: “I think fastball command was a little better than it has been in the past. My slider was a little better than it has been, as well. I think just really being able to mix up locations in and out of the zone a little bit. I think that overall the results weren’t incredible. There’s still work to be done, but I think it was better than it has been, so it’s a step in the right direction.”
Hess on his extended opportunity: “I think that we’ve talked about this before. I’ve had about 10 starts now. About half have been good and about half haven’t been that good. I think we’re just trying to sway that in the direction of being better.
“Getting an extended look, that does mean a ton to me, that the team has that belief in me. More than anything, I just want to go out and prove them right and show that I do belong here and just give the team a chance to win, because at the end of the day that’s really what matters more than anything.”