A look at Gunnar Henderson's big debut and the O's latest shutout

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There can’t be many instances over the years where one organization has called up two prospects during a season and, at the time of the call, both were ranked as Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect. But after Adley Rutschman moved up earlier this season, Gunnar Henderson officially joined the Orioles roster on Wednesday in Cleveland.

That meant that the first three Mike Elias' Orioles draft picks from 2019 - Rutschman (taken No. 1 overall), Henderson (taken No. 42) and Kyle Stowers (No. 71) - were now all on the Baltimore roster.

And what a debut for Henderson in Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Guardians. He hit a 429-foot solo homer to right in the fourth inning and singled in the ninth. He went 2-for-4, driving the homer 107 mph off the bat and the single 101 mph. He even had two loud outs at 91 and 98 mph. So on the night, he produced four of the top 24 exit velocities in that game last night.

When this season began, Henderson told us in Double-A Bowie that he worked hard this spring to improve his plate discipline and swing decisions. He wanted to decrease his swings and misses and make more consistent and better contact on balls at the top of the strike zone. He improved on both counts and had a stunning start with the Baysox, walking more than he struck out. And while those massive numbers he put up at Bowie (1.025 OPS) were harder to produce at Triple-A, he still left the Tides with an .894 OPS.

During an interview in July, with Henderson headed to the All-Star Futures Game, O’s director of player development Matt Blood was asked if Gunnar’s plate discipline gains represented his biggest improvement this year.

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O's game blog: Gunnar Henderson makes his MLB debut

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It is hard to win when you score just one run and the Orioles have not won the last two games, falling Sunday at Houston 3-1 and by a 5-1 score last night to start a three-game series at Cleveland. Tonight they face the Guardians in the second game of this series.

The Orioles (67-61) begin the night tied with the Twins, three games back of the Blue Jays for the third American League wild card spot. They are 3 1/2 games back of Seattle for the second spot and four behind Tampa Bay for the first one.

So some ground to make up in Game 5 of a road trip where they are 2-2 thanks to the great pitching they got in Houston.

The O’s have scored just seven runs in four games of this trip, batting .172 (21-for-122) and they are 3-for-24 with runners in scoring position. In the last nine games, the team has scored 27 runs with a team batting line of .194/.272/.306 with a .579 OPS in that span.

But even with the recent slumping, the Orioles still rank fourth in the AL in team OPS for August at .718 and they are seventh in the AL in runs this month. Since the All-Star Game, the Orioles' OPS of .704 ranks sixth in the AL and they are sixth in runs scored at 4.25 per game.

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A season where it's "best I've ever thrown" resumes Thursday for Grayson Rodriguez

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ABERDEEN, Md. – Grayson Rodriguez was in good spirits as usual and was his usual friendly and articulate self. Now if he pitches on Thursday as he usually does, he might end his season as it began. Pitching in dominant fashion on a minor league mound.

And that could lead him to end his year on a major league mound.

When he pitches for high Single-A Aberdeen tomorrow, it will mark three months exactly to when we last saw him. He was dominating for Triple-A Norfolk then and closing in on a major league callup.

At the time of his Grade 2 right lat strain June 1, he was 5-1 with a 2.09 ERA and 0.84 WHIP for Norfolk.

“I would say going back and watching tape and reflecting on outings in Norfolk the first two months, I mean that’s, hands down the best I’ve ever thrown a baseball in my life,” Rodriguez told reporters Tuesday at Ripken Stadium. “So really just kind of taking into account what I was doing, how I was pitching to hitters, how I was utilizing certain pitches in certain counts, really just kind of being able to sit there, sit on it (during rehab) and game plan for about two or three months about how to attack hitters coming up.”

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O's game blog: The series opener at Cleveland

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Coming off an impressive series win at Houston, the Orioles have moved on to Cleveland, where they will look to keep their momentum going tonight. The Orioles and Guardians will play the opener of a three-game series.

The Orioles are 30-36 on the road this year. But that record looks better when we are reminded that they were 3-10 on the road in April and were 5-14 in early May. Now the Orioles have won two straight road series and three of five, and two of those series were at Toronto and Houston.

The Birds have won four of their past six road games, are 13-9 in the last 22 and are 24-20 on the road since late May. They are 6-6-2 in road series for the year.

The Orioles (67-60) had a three-game win streak snapped Sunday at Minute Maid Park. They have won five of seven, eight of 13, 16 of 25, 20 of 32 and 32 of 48 games. Since June 11, the Orioles are 43-25.

Baltimore got great starting pitching in Houston, where Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer and Austin Voth combined to allow two runs and seven hits over 21 2/3 innings, with five walks to 13 strikeouts. The Astros batted just .104 (7-for-67) against that trio over the weekend. Their combined ERA was 0.83.

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In Aberdeen, Grayson Rodriguez is ready for return to game action

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ABERDEEN, Md. – The Orioles' top pitching prospect, right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, headed north this week to continue his rehab. In two days Rodriguez will pitch in a game for the first time since his appearance June 1 for Triple-A Norfolk.

Rodriguez, ranked as the No. 4 prospect in baseball by both Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com, will take the mound Thursday for high Single-A Aberdeen at Ripken Stadium against Hickory.

It will be three months to the day that Rodriguez walked off the mound after throwing 5 2/3 scoreless innings for Norfolk against Jacksonville. Rodriguez had suffered a Grade 2 right lat strain and has been in rehab mode since. Just recently, that escalated when he added live bullpen sessions and a simulated game. The next step comes Thursday.

“I feel good,” he said today at Ripken Stadium. “Obviously, it’s great to just be back here in Maryland, where full-season ball is. So getting out of Florida was pretty nice.

“It really happened the inning before I came out," Rodriguez said, recalling his injury. "I just thought it was a cramp or a muscle spasm. Went back out and, obviously, the velo was down. So being precautionary, took myself out of the game. Then them saying I could miss the rest of the season, thought it was pretty crazy. But been able to rehab in Florida and everything went pretty smoothly.”

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Spenser Watkins worked with O's pitching coaches to step up his game

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During a year where the Orioles have made dramatic improvement as a team, so have several individuals, especially on the pitching staff. And as those players got better, so did the team. One led to two.

As it relates to Orioles pitchers, pitching coaches Chris Holt and Darren Holmes have worked with guys to tweak pitches, add pitches, work on their deliveries and learn what their real strengths are and go to them often. Anything they can do to help one pitcher helps the team.

And an underrated part of this, said manager Brandon Hyde, is finding willing pupils. Coaches can suggest all they want but if the pitchers are not willing to make needed changes and then able to perfect them enough to get outs at seven o’clock, this process won’t work.

“To be able to get player buy in, one of those things not talked about enough, is what makes good coaches,” said Hyde in Houston. “Trust. And after trust becomes buy in. And you get buy in from players from sometimes having tough conversations. By being able to prove things. That the player knows you have their best interest.

“That’s one thing I feel like we’ve done a good job here the last few years of being able to get players to make adjustments or talk about adjustments. And you’ve seen that with the pitchers this year. Our guys have gotten better.”

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Starting pitching stepped it up in Houston, good sign for stretch run

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HOUSTON – After a weekend in Houston where O’s pitching gave up just four runs, leading the team to a series win over the club with the best record in the American League, the O’s take some momentum to Cleveland where they open a big series Tuesday night.

They’re all big now, when the club is 1.5 games out of a playoff berth with 35 games remaining.

The Orioles continue to surprise some people around MLB and who could have expected them to head into Houston, win the series with a chance to sweep Sunday? Houston began this weekend with the best AL record at 81-45 which included a seven-game home win streak and home record for the year of 42-18.

But terrific starting pitching led the Orioles to wins by 2-0 Friday and 3-1 Saturday before they lost 3-1 Sunday to end a five-game win streak at Minute Maid Park.

The Orioles continue to show they can play with the AL big boys – both in the AL East and beyond – and outfielder Austin Hays likes their positioning for the stretch run.

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No sweep: Houston offense breaks through late to beat Orioles (updated)

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HOUSTON – It seemed improbable that the Orioles' run of great starting pitching could last against one of the best hitting teams in the majors on the road.

But it did.

The Orioles were not scoring runs on their end, however, and the game went into the late innings with a 0-0 score at Houston's Minute Maid Park. This after the Orioles had beaten Houston by 2-0 and 3-1 to take the series' first two games. But the Houston bullpen was doing the job after a surprise early exit by Justin Verlander due to injury.

And then the Astros finally broke through and got the big hit they had been waiting for.

Against a drawn-in infield with runners on second and third and one out in the seventh, first baseman Yuli Gurriel poked a two-run single to right field. That put Houston ahead, and they went on to a 3-1 win to avoid getting swept in the three-game series.

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O's game blog: Trying to complete the three-game sweep in Houston

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HOUSTON – After allowing just one run on eight hits, and despite scoring just five runs themselves, the Orioles can complete a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros today at Minute Maid Park.

This would be quite the achievement for the improved Orioles. Consider this:

* Houston began the series with the best record in the American League at 81-45.

* Houston is still the top team in the AL.

* The Astros had a seven-game home win streak and four-game overall win streak snapped Friday.

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O's pregame notes on Mountcastle, Wells, facing Verlander and more

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HOUSTON – The Orioles' pitching has carried them to two wins at Minute Maid Park. As they go for the three-game sweep today they’d like to generate more offense.

First baseman Ryan Mountcastle, struggling in the second half, showed some signs of breaking out last night, when he hit one ball 102 mph and another 105 mph on line outs. It was a good sign for the Orioles, said manager Brandon Hyde.

“You know the way the three guys ahead of him in the lineup are getting on base, the at-bats they’re taking, you know with Ryan, I was happy with his at-bats last night,” Hyde said. “Had better at-bats, was a little more under control, stayed on the ball better. Hit a couple of balls pretty hard. When he stays with himself, good things happen. Being able to lay off sliders out of the zone and elevated fastballs, you know when he puts swings on strikes, good things happen. So we’re getting on base ahead of him and hopefully he can turn it around here pretty soon.”

In the second half, Mountcastle, who is 0-for-8 this series, is batting .177/.282/.298/.550 after he posted a .786 OPS in the first half.

“Yesterday felt a little better. Hit two balls hard,” Mountcastle said. “Thought I got the second one, but I guess it didn’t want to go out. It is what it is. I’m trying and working hard at it.”

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The Elias Houston-Baltimore connection and other notes

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HOUSTON – Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias is with the team, at least to start, on this road trip. He's back in Houston, where he helped turn the Astros into big winners before he got hired by the Orioles.

He’s been very visible on the field the last two days pregame, catching up with old friends from here and he remains, of course, proud of his time here and what was built here, producing lasting success.

“There was just so much good work going on in the Astros organization for the last 10 years, and it’s still rolling with no end in sight. And I’m very proud and fortunate to have been a part of it,” he said during an interview Friday that was well attended by the Houston media.

Now’s he proud of what his staff and players are getting done in Baltimore, contending for a playoff spot a year after losing 110 games.

And he noted that even after the trades of Trey Mancini and Jorge López, the Orioles kept winning and have had a strong month in August.

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Early homers, Kremer's gem lead O's past Houston (updated)

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HOUSTON – The Orioles took the field tonight following afternoon losses by the Blue Jays and Rays. They knew if they won this evening, they would gain some ground in the AL wild-card race. Two homers later, they took early control of this game and were on their way to a second straight win against the team with the best record in the league.

Another gem on the mound proved pretty vital as well.

Anthony Santander and Austin Hays homered in the third inning and right-hander Dean Kremer allowed one run over 7 2/3 innings as the Orioles beat the Houston Astros 3-1 in front of 34,526 at Minute Maid Park.

The Orioles (67-59) moved eight games over the .500 mark for the first time since May 21, 2017. They are now 1.5 games out of the last AL wild card spot. 

They have won five of six and eight of 12 games and are 32-15 in their last 47 games. Baltimore has now won five straight games at Houston after a sweep here last year. Before that, the O's were 6-20 all time in Houston.

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O's game blog: Dean Kremer faces Houston in Game 2

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HOUSTON – After snapping Houston’s seven-game home win streak Friday at Minute Maid Park, the Orioles can win this series with another victory tonight against the Astros.

The Orioles (66-59) have won their last two and four of five games after the 2-0 win, their 11th shutout coming on a combined four-hitter by Kyle Bradish, Cionel Pérez and Dillon Tate, who got the last out for his third save. Bradish allowed just two singles over eight innings, which was the longest outing by an O’s starter this year. He walked two and fanned six in a 96-pitch outing that included 51 percent sliders.

Bradish is the seventh rookie in O's history to throw eight or more scoreless innings on two or fewer hits on the road and first since Chris Waters on Aug. 5, 2008 at the Los Angeles Angels. Bradish became the eighth rookie in MLB history to do so against the Astros and only the second to do so in Houston since 1962.

The last three O’s starters – Spenser Watkins, Jordan Lyles and Bradish – have all recorded quality starts and allowed three earned runs over 21 innings. While scoring just six runs in winning back-to-back versus the White Sox and Astros, O’s pitchers allowed just two earned runs over 20 innings. The O's rotation has now posted five quality starts in the past 10 games with an ERA of 2.70 in that span. Baltimore's pitching has given up three runs or less seven times the last 11 starts.

Bradish’s outing produced the 30th quality start of the year by Baltimore pitchers and the Orioles are now 20-10 when they get such an outing.

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Brandon Hyde on the search for rotation innings and more

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HOUSTON – Orioles manager Brandon Hyde believes the start by right-hander Kyle Bradish against Houston last night was the best of the year by an O’s starting pitcher. Bradish threw eight scoreless innings, allowing just two singles on 96 pitches in the 2-0 series-opening win.

He gave the Orioles quality and quantity. He shut down a great offense and also went deep into the game. It was the longest outing by an O’s starter in 2022.

“For me it was for sure (the best this year),” said Hyde this afternoon. “How cool is that, one of our young starters being able to do that. Our guys are growing in front of us. They’re developing. They are getting great experiences.”

Now the next step is to get the O’s starters to pitch deeper into games. They have gotten that the last two nights with outings of seven and eight innings back-to-back. Hyde wants and needs more of that and he used the example of tonight’s opponent to show what that can mean.

Houston’s rotation leads the AL in ERA at 3.07 but also in rotation innings at 744 1/3. The O’s are 13th in innings at 615 and 11th in rotation ERA at 4.42.

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More on Bradish's big night, the pitchers dial it up and Trey's reunion

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HOUSTON – Behind a pitching staff that seems to be finding a higher gear in recent days, the Orioles have pulled off, on back-to-back days, two of their most impressive wins during a year filled with such games.

The latest surprising result was their 2-0 shutout of Houston Friday night in front of 31,035 at Minute Maid Park. The Astros were held to four singles. The same Astros that began the night with the best record in the American League at 81-45 and with a seven-game home win streak. The same team that is 42-18 at home this year and 27-8 in their last 35 at home.

The Orioles (66-59) moved seven games over the .500 mark for the first time since May 22, 2017. 

O’s starting pitchers have their first back-to-back outings of seven innings or more all year, and right-hander Kyle Bradish threw an O’s season-high eight innings, allowing two hits on 96 pitches. He did that against one of the best offenses in baseball, and when the coaches checked on him when he was at 85 pitches after seven innings, he told them he wanted to keep going.

“They asked how I felt and I was like, ‘I’m just getting started,'" Bradish said. "Felt really good, velo was still there. Means a lot showcasing my ability against the best team."

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Bradish's gem, Urías' homer carry O's to series-opening win (updated)

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HOUSTON – For an Orioles team searching many nights for offense recently, one swing can make a big difference. It did on Thursday night and Kyle Stowers was the hitter then. It did Friday night in the series opener at Houston and Ramón Urías had the huge swing.

The Orioles third baseman broke up a 0-0 tie and ended a night of mostly frustration on offense for his squad when he blasted a two-run homer to left. The sixth-inning blast helped lead the Orioles to 2-0 win over Houston behind a gem from right-hander Kyle Bradish.

Making his 16th big league start, Bradish had one spectacular night on the mound for the Orioles.

The rookie had a 4.21 ERA in five starts since coming off the injured list. His strong outing tonight came against the team that ranks third in the league in runs, second in homers, third in slugging and OPS and with the second fewest strikeouts at bat.

Bradish spun eight scoreless innings at the Astros, allowing just two hits: a single in the fourth by Kyle Tucker and another in the seventh by Alex Bregman.

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O's game blog: The road trip begins at first-place Houston

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HOUSTON – The Orioles begin a tough two-city road trip tonight when they play the Houston Astros in the first of three games at Minute Maid Park. Houston holds the best record in the American League, and after three games there the Orioles play three at Cleveland against the American League Central leading Guardians.

The Orioles return home a week from tonight for a long homestand against Oakland, Toronto and Boston.

But after their remarkable win last night by 4-3 over the Chicago White Sox, the Orioles take a series victory and some momentum into this series. Kyle Stowers homered with two outs on an 0-2 pitch to tie the game in the ninth, and Anthony Santander’s single to deep center field produced the walk-off win in the 11th.

The win marked their ninth walk-off win of the year and the Orioles are now 8-4 in extra innings, 18-21 in one-run games, and 3-51 when trailing after eight innings. They earned their 29th comeback win of the season, the most by the O’s since 2017 (34). Entering yesterday, their 29 comeback wins ranked tied for third in the AL. And the Orioles finished 5-2 (.714) against the White Sox this year, their best winning percentage in a single season against Chicago-AL since going 5-1 (.833) in 2014.

Houston beat Minnesota 6-3 Thursday to complete a three-game sweep, and Houston (81-45) has won four games in a row by a combined eight runs. Houston is leading the AL West by 12.5 games over Seattle and holds the best record in the AL by 3.5 games over the New York Yankees.

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Mike Elias in Houston: No decision yet on Gunnar Henderson

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HOUSTON – Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias is on this road trip with the Orioles and told reporters today in the Orioles dugout that no decision has been made yet as to whether Gunnar Henderson, ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the sport by Baseball America, will be called up to the Orioles.

“We are watching everything he is doing carefully,” Elias said. “And having ongoing conversations about when and how he might factor into that in 2022, but no decisions have been made. But it’s obviously something we are monitoring and very pleased where he is at as a 21-year-old that started the year in Double-A.

“We do (see rosters) expand on Sept. 1. We are, obviously, going to be adding one position player and one pitcher. I don’t know who those are. Everything changes day to day in baseball. Somebody could get hurt. We’re just going to have to see. He’s put himself in a spot to be considered but he’s still having ups and downs in Triple-A on a nightly basis, and we’re watching that too.”

Henderson, in 108 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, has batted .292/.415/.531/.946 with 19 homers and 75 RBIs.

Elias was asked what Henderson still needs to show to get his shot with the Orioles.

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With fourth organization, Jorge Mateo finally got his shot and ran with it

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The transaction date was Aug. 5, 2021 and it probably didn’t register big around Birdland at that time. But the Orioles had claimed a one-time top 100 prospect, infielder Jorge Mateo on waivers from San Diego. He had a lot of speed but the promise he once showed had not materialized yet at the big-league level.

Of course, he had never gotten an extended chance really to show what he can do, getting just 121 plate appearances in 79 games with San Diego. He was already 25 when he broke in there during the 2020 season.

But now the player that once was ranked as high as No. 26 by Baseball America in its 2016 top 100 is thriving finally on the Orioles watch. He made a good first impression late last season, batting .280 with a .748 OPS in 32 games and that meant he might get a real chance this year.

He has and he’s run with it.

In the first half it was solid and steady defense at short that he showed along with that blinding speed. But in the second half, his bat has come to life. And while his overall numbers heading into last night’s game with a .233 average and .690 OPS, are below big-league average, it’s his recent hitting that now has him ranked among the top shortstops in the American League per FanGraphs.com Wins Above Replacement.

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O's game blog: Looking for a win in the ChiSox series finale

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After they have exchanged 5-3 wins – with the Orioles winning by that margin on Tuesday night and the White Sox doing so last night – the Birds and ChiSox play their series-deciding game tonight at Camden Yards.

The Orioles (64-59) are 8-9 in rubber match games this season and won the last one they played, beating the Red Sox in Williamsport, Pa., on Sunday night in the Little League Classic.

The Orioles have allowed two runs in each first inning of the two games in this series. The first inning has been their worst inning this season, one where they have been outscored by 26 runs 66-40. The next worst inning for the Orioles is the fifth, where they have been outscored 75-68. The team has a first-inning ERA of 4.68.

The O’s offense has produced eight runs and 11 hits (going 11-for-59, .186) in this series with two doubles and two homers while going 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

The Orioles are now 36-24 at home and are 18-7 their past 25 home games.

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