ANAHEIM, Calif. – If you haven’t been impressed yet by the Orioles' dramatically improved pitching, maybe you missed the last of the fourth inning Friday night.
O’s lefty Bruce Zimmermann was rolling again. He had buzzed through the first three innings against the Los Angeles Angels, a first-place team beginning play Friday, on 33 pitches. In the last of the first he fanned reigning league MVP Shohei Ohtani and then got Mike Trout to line out and Anthony Rendon to ground out. On seven pitches, by the way.
But here they came to bat again in the fourth and this time they were getting a second look at Zimmermann. So up came Ohtani, who hit 46 homers last year. Zimmermann struck him out swinging on five pitches with a slider. Next was Trout, a three-time MVP and eight-time Silver Slugger, who fanned at a curveball to go down on strikes on the fifth pitch. And then five more would be needed to strike out Rendon, also a Silver Slugger winner, with a changeup.
It wasn’t Carl Hubbell in the 1934 All-Star game, but for a guy throwing 90, 91 mph, it was darn impressive.
“That 1-2-3 (in their lineup) is a serious punch. It’s definitely a challenge but that is what makes this game fun, is playing against guys like that," said Zimmermann.
Especially when you strike out Ohtani three times on a changeup and two sliders. That is what Zimmermann did last night.
“Trust the slider, I guess,” Zimmermann said, laughing. “That was a pretty impressive 1-2-3, so getting to face them three times was a challenge. But it’s also a lot of fun.”
He was making it look easy against some of the best hitters in the game. Against an Angels team scoring five runs a game and that was second in the league in team OPS.
Zimmermann became the first O’s starter to record a quality start and first to go six innings this season. He came out for the seventh but walked Trout, and then Rendon got him for a two-run homer. When Rendon’s drive left the yard, Zimmermann had finally given up an earned run this season. He is now 1-0 with a 1.20 ERA.
“For me, it’s the multiple pitches he can throw for strikes (making him good),” said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. “And the changeup is, just from the dugout view, the changeup is continuing to improve and he’s keeping it down. He hung one, and that was a two-run homer. That was really it. I thought he was strong all the way through. Threw the ball extremely well.”
Robinson Chirinos was back to catch him after a pitch struck his face a glancing blow on Wednesday night. He caught and called a good game, and also had a two-run single and an RBI grounder.
“Pro hitter,” Hyde said. “Knocks in the first couple for us. Just continues to take really good at-bats, and you can see what he’s doing for our pitching staff. Him and (Anthony) Bemboom both are just really doing a great job with inexperienced guys on the mound with good stuff, and they are getting them through innings. Really happy to have both of them here.”
The trio of Ohtani, Trout and Rendon went 2-for-11 with six strikeouts in the game. Ohtani went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and hit into one huge double play. Cionel Pérez got him to hit into a 6-5-3 DP to end the eighth, and the O's bullpen threw well again with three scoreless innings. Félix Bautista and Jorge López both touched 98 on the gun, and López earned his third save.
Before the game, Hyde was praising the Angels for their good start, which had included a 7-2 record their previous nine games. After the game he was impressed with the job his team did against them.
“That’s a playoff roster. That’s a good club. They have a good bullpen. So we had to be able to hold onto the lead against a really good lineup. That was fun,” he said.
Zimmermann showed his full arsenal last night, throwing four pitches for strikes and using his fastball a third of the time and his secondary pitches essentially two out of every three pitches. He was unpredictable and he was, for most of the night, in complete control.
“We’re just really happy with the results so far," he said. "Really just been able to attack the zone throughout every game so far. Rely on the defense a little bit and get my strikeouts where I can get them. Limited the walks tonight. Still shouldn’t have that last one to Trout, but other than that, just really happy with the amount of time that we’re in the zone. How we’re mixing and switching and how we are able to keep the guys off balance. A lot of credit goes to Robby as well. We were really on the same page tonight.”
More notes on the win:
* Before Trey Mancini was ejected in the fourth inning on Thursday, the Orioles had scored three runs their previous 31 innings. Since his ejection, they have scored nine in the last 14 innings.
* O’s starting pitchers have allowed two earned runs or fewer for 11 straight games. During that span, the rotation ERA is 1.69. The rotation ERA on this road trip is 1.99.
* The O’s team ERA fell to 2.80 after last night, and they have allowed two earned runs or fewer nine times in 14 games. In the last three games, O’s pitchers have walked just two and fanned 27.
* The Orioles continue to strike some balls very hard that turn into outs. In Mancini’s last three at-bats last night he hit the ball 99, 106 and 107 mph and only had one hit to show for it. Mancini leads the Orioles in average exit velocity at 92.5 mph.
* The Orioles' five runs tied their season high, set Sunday versus the Yankees. So did their three hits (in 10 at-bats) with a runner in scoring position. They went 3-for-9 with RISP in that earlier Yankees game.
* The Orioles have yet to have a 10-hit game, and they have gone six games without a home run. They’ve hit one homer their past nine games.
* The Orioles started the season going 1-5 and now are 4-4 the last eight games.