Bad luck bedevils Orioles in 2-1 loss to Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The first pitch of the Orioles’ 2022 season hit Cedric Mullins on the right elbow.

Mullins shook his hand and jogged to first base. Manager Brandon Hyde probably just shook in the dugout.

Must protect the franchise’s first 30/30 player. Must not let the incident become symbolic in any way.

The Orioles loaded the bases with one out and didn’t score. More painful than the errant 97 mph fastball from Shane McClanahan.

An actual symbol related back to spring training. Starters on stricter pitch counts following an abbreviated camp. A watchful eye on John Means as he reached 44 pitches through the second inning and 69 after the third, which included Brandon Lowe’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly.

Bryan Baker was warming as Means returned for the fourth, stranded a runner and increased his total to 84 pitches. His Orioles debut came in the fifth. Hyde wasn’t pushing Means any further, just as Rays manager Kevin Cash removed McClanahan after 68 pitches in 4 1/3.

These decisions will mean an increase in no-decisions, at least in the early weeks.

Means and McClanahan became spectators as Anthony Santander tied the game in the sixth with a solo home run off Matt Wisler, the ball traveling 411 feet to center field. Baker, Cionel Pérez and Dillon Tate combined to retire nine batters in a row. But Tampa Bay loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth, pinch-hitter Francisco Mejía delivered a sacrifice fly to center field off Jorge López, and the Orioles lost 2-1 before an announced sellout crowd of 25,025 at Tropicana Field.

Wander Franco collected his third hit of the game, a leadoff single off Tate in the eighth. Pinch-hitter Ji-Man Choi drew an eight-pitch walk against López, Randy Arozarena beat out a chopper to third, Ramón Urías fielded Brandon Lowe’s grounder and threw home for the out, and Mejía lifted a sinker deep enough to prevent a play at the plate.

Paul Fry, who went 0-3 against the Rays last season, allowing 18 earned runs (20 total) and walking 15 batters in 4 2/3 innings before his August demotion, retired Brett Phillips on a soft liner to short.

Hyde had no issues with López’s performance in a role that figures to be repeated many times. Tight game, high leverage.

“Lopey’s got, especially out of the bullpen, amazing stuff and you saw it tonight,” Hyde said. “He’s 98, 99 (mph), it’s a good changeup. They got a swinging bunt single, safe at first base. Pretty much cost us the game. Just bad luck on our part.”

“It’s good to see the opportunity,” López said. “I never had that before, and it’s good to jump in and have that opportunity to keep going with my mentality of attacking the hitters, just try to keep the game close. That’s my job. I just can control what I can control.”

How badly does he want the ball in the next jam?

“So bad,” he said.

As the Orioles withhold the identity of their fifth starter, they outrighted reliever Isaac Mattson to Triple-A Norfolk today after he cleared waivers. The 40-man roster has an open spot if they decide to select a contract.

Spenser Watkins is on the taxi squad for the first trip. Dean Kremer would appear to be the leading candidate among players on the current 28-man roster.

It won’t be López or Mike Baumann, who are assigned bullpen duty.

Means was the slam-dunk opening day starter before spring training began if he got through camp healthy. He shut out the Red Sox on one hit over seven innings in last year’s first game. He held the Rays to one run today, scattered six hits and struck out five.

“I knew, especially with those long, long innings, that I was probably going to be limited to four or five, and then the next one was long and I was like, ‘OK, let’s get through four,’” Means said. “It was one of those grinding ones, couldn’t ease into it a little bit.

“It’s tough. It was one of those, like my ‘19 outings when where I’d just go five and dive at 100 pitches, and something that I want to change, and I just wasn’t getting ahead of enough guys. Just got to change that up. I was trying to do too much with the heater and slider today.”

The Rays got the first hit out of the way quickly, with Franco reaching on an infield single with one out in the bottom of the first inning. And they kept battling, fouling off 24 of Means’ pitches on the afternoon.

Arozarena struck out swinging on the fourth changeup he saw among five pitches to end the inning. A two-out walk and single in the second was followed by Kevin Kiermaier’s strikeout on a 92.4 mph fastball.

Three singles in the third set up Lowe’s fly ball to right field. Mike Zunino struck out on a changeup, but Means was at 69 pitches and on the verge of leaving.

“The changeup felt really good,” said Means, who induced a swing and miss on six of 18. “If I didn’t have that today, it probably would have been a lot rougher of an outing.”

Manuel Margot singled with one out in the fourth, Means got a fielder’s choice grounder and popup, and Baker became the first reliever used in 2022.

“He threw 80-some pitches and that was going to be by far the max,” Hyde said. “He gave up one run in four innings, did a really good job. We gave up two sac flies and lost the game. I was really happy with our pitching, from Meansie up to Fry at the end. Everybody threw the ball extremely well. Just a well-pitched game from both clubs.”

McClanahan, a Baltimore native, made four starts against the Orioles last year as a rookie and won all of them, posting a 2.74 ERA and 1.087 WHIP with three walks and 27 strikeouts in 23 innings. He stranded four runners in the first two innings today and struck out the side in the third.

Urías doubled with one out in the fourth and Jorge Mateo walked, but Robinson Chirinos grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.

Mullins’ one-out single drove McClanahan from the game, and the Orioles stranded their sixth runner. McClanahan allowed four hits, walked two batters and struck out seven.

The Orioles struck out 11 times through the seventh. Austin Hays became the 12th after Trey Mancini’s one-out double in the eighth. Santander walked, and the number of stranded runners reached eight – with the Orioles 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

They’d also strand pinch-runner Chris Owings in the ninth after Rougned Odor’s check-swing, two-out single. Mullins struck out with the count full against Brooks Raley to leave that total at 14.

Baker retired the side in order in the in the fifth inning, getting a called third strike on Arozarena. The right-hander was making his second major league appearance, tossing a scoreless inning last year with the Blue Jays.

Pérez tossed six scoreless innings in six spring training appearances, and he retired the Rays in order with two strikeouts in the sixth.

Someone needed to replace Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott after the Marlins trade.

“Like I told them, all of you guys are going to be in big spots, different leverage spots,” Hyde said. “I need to find out who can do what, and in what part of the game they’re most comfortable in. Really happy with how Baker, threw the ball, Cionel Pérez was outstanding. So, really encouraged by that.”

Tate retired the side in order in the seventh, with an apparent throwing error by Kelvin Gutiérrez overturned on review.

There was no way to reverse the bottom of the eighth.

Hyde let Tate come back out and face one batter.

“Tate threw seven pitches in the seventh inning, had a really good changeup going,” Hyde said. “For me, I wanted Lopey in the biggest part of the game when it mattered, and with a leadoff single to Franco there, bringing Lopey in. Choi had a great at-bat against him, and lost him on a 3-2 pitch. Unfortunately, the swinging bunt single didn’t help, then you got the ground ball to Lowe and the sac fly. So, he threw the ball extremely well, just not good luck.”

Said López: “My plan was just to attack. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the plan (to be) successful. But at the same time, kept the game close. It’s a really tough one and we’ll keep our head up. Just thinking about tomorrow. Come back and have a nice game.”

The Orioles went 1-18 against the Rays last season, and now have lost 13 straight to them. They’re off to an 0-1 start in 2022.

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