SAN FRANCISCO – When the series began on Friday the Orioles had lost back-to-back series for the first time all year. Their pitching staff had gotten torched for 12 runs on Wednesday versus Cleveland with the bullpen giving up 11 runs.
But during a weekend where they faced a San Francisco Giants team that had won four of its last five series and was 11-5 over the previous 16 games, the Orioles took two of three from the Giants.
Their pitching staff restored some order even as they played three more games without Cedric Mullins and the last 15 innings of the series without Gunnar Henderson, who left Saturday’s game with lower back discomfort. The good news there is that manager Brandon Hyde said Sunday he was doing better and he seemed confident Henderson could play in the Milwaukee series that begins tomorrow night.
O’s pitching gave up two, four and three runs in the series at Oracle Park, allowing nine runs on 21 hits in the games with 10 walks to 34 strikeouts.
Right-hander Tyler Wells set a career high with nine strikeouts Sunday, but all the Ks also helped escalate his pitch count and he left the game after 5 1/3 innings throwing 102 pitches. Mike Baumann, Yennier Cano and Austin Voth covered the last 3 2/3 allowing a hit and a run.
The O’s ‘pen gave up two runs in 10 2/3 against San Francisco after their tough ending to the Cleveland series at home.
“I think it’s great for them,” said Wells. “It is such an up and down season for a lot of us. We’re going to go through highs and go through some lows. But, overall, they bounced back in a good way and hopefully that just keeps us on track.”
Of his nine strikeout day, Wells said: “I think it was a combination of things. I think me and (catcher James) McCann were on the same page a lot of the time. Anytime that he put down a pitch, and he got into the spot that he wanted the pitch, I tried to locate it there every time. I wasn’t trying to strike out a lot of guys today. I was just trying to hit my spots and fortunately it worked out that way.”
The Orioles are now 37-22 overall and 20-10 on the road. They are 8-2 in road series and after this latest win, Hyde said he was not sure why his club plays so well on the road this season.
“I don’t know the answer. Think we have a bunch of pros that are ready to play. Come to the park prepared and like I’ve said, (have) come here a lot of times and this is not an easy place to play. So to get two out of three here, good series for us,” said Hyde.
Lester’s big hit, Lester’s big day: Henderson being out yesterday opened the door for the Orioles to start Josh Lester at third base. And Lester, who went 0-for-5 in his first two big league games for Detroit last September, produced his first MLB hit wearing an O’s jersey.
During Baltimore’s six-run third inning he hit a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded into center field for a two-run single. A third run scored on an error on the play and a 3-0 lead became 6-0.
Lester, 28, a 13th-round Tigers draft pick in 2015, waited through 795 minor league games and 2,988 at-bats for that first big league base hit. And it was big for the Orioles.
“Somebody that has never been on a top prospect list,” said Hyde, clearly touched by Lester’s background and story. “Somebody that is drafted in the 13th round. Look around the big leagues, there are a lot of guys like that. His story is a great one, grew up in a baseball family. Just grinding at Triple-A. Gunnar can’t go today. He gets a start. Huge hit, big hit for us. One we haven’t been getting honestly. Got a big hit to give us a little breathing room and that did.”
Said Lester of his special hit and moment: “Obviously it is something I’ve looked forward to my entire life since I was five years old playing baseball. For it to come at a big moment in the game with some guys on was even better.
“I think I might have blacked out a little bit. Obviously just a surreal moment. I spent a long time in the minor leagues and a little bit last year in the big leagues. But getting that first hit is just a huge moment. I am confident in my ability and my chance to get back and get a hit, but it’s a big weight off your shoulder and a big smile on your face when it does come.”
He sure paid his dues.
“Absolutely. No matter how much you are in the minor leagues, fast or slow, getting that first hit and getting to the big leagues is everybody’s dream. But spending that much time in the minor leagues and kind of grinding your way, it definitely means a lot to me,” said Lester, who is now 1-for-8 in MLB.
He said he would give the ball to his parents or maybe ship it to his fiancée.
He also discussed how in an O’s organization loaded with prospects, we’ve seen some older players like Ryan O’Hearn and Lester get their chance too this year. Both have now had big hits for the club.
“I think it’s a testament to the organization. Obviously player development is loaded. Triple-A team is loaded and the Double-A team has got some guys too and player development is really good. But bringing in guys that they think can help win – and I think if you talk to O’Hearn – both of us are just here to help the big league team win as much as possible,” Lester added.
Kjerstad moving up: The Orioles are promoting Heston Kjerstad from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk. He went 3-for-4 with an RBI Sunday in Bowie's 14-10 loss to Harrisburg.
In 46 games this season with the Baysox, Kjerstad, the 2022 Arizona Fall League MVP, batted .310/.383/.576/.959 with 10 doubles, three triples, 11 homers and 23 RBIs.
Norfolk is off today and will open its next series Tuesday night at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.