CHICAGO – Where starts used to get away from Dean Kremer, they now remain under his control.
It’s such a startling change, the aggression, command and confidence thrusting him back into discussions about the future of the Orioles rotation.
Kremer followed his six scoreless innings in his last start with 5 2/3 tonight, Adley Rutschman hit his second major league home run and the Orioles began a four-game series against the White Sox with a 4-0 win.
Rutschman gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead in the fourth when he followed Ryan Mountcastle’s second double of the night with a 402-foot shot to right field off Johnny Cueto, the ball landing far beyond the visiting bullpen.
Reliever Reynaldo López replaced Cueto with runners on the corners in the sixth and Rutschman doubled for a career-high three RBIs. Ten of his last 14 hits since June 10 have gone for extra bases.
He took care of the scoring tonight until Cedric Mullins’ two-out single in the eighth brought home Tyler Nevin.
"He's getting more comfortable in the big leagues," said manager Brandon Hyde. "Johnny Cueto is a tough matchup for a young or veteran-type hitter. How he changes speeds, changes delivery, messes up your timing. He's got plus-plus command of multiple pitches. And so I was really impressed with Adley's at-bats.
"He's really talented. There's always an adjustment period in the big leagues and he's going to have his ups and downs, but he's got big-time tools and a ton of ability, and you saw the power tonight."
The bullpen offered 3 1/3 scoreless innings, with Jorge López stranding two inherited runners for his 12th save, and the Orioles (32-39) registered their seventh shutout and second in two nights. They’ve won eight of their last 12 games and moved within seven of .500 for the first time since May 23.
Kremer came within an out of completing six innings, but Jake Burger doubled and Gilman School graduate Gavin Sheets walked to bring Félix Bautista into the game. Kremer scattered seven hits, walked one and struck out four, and Hyde stopped him at 93 pitches.
"I think the change in mentality is definitely helping," Kremer said. "I just kind of, I don't want to say forget about the guys on base, but kind of like, OK, my priority's at the plate. I care about the guys on base, but my priority's at the plate."
Bautista struck out Seby Zavala to strand the runners and keep Kremer’s ERA at 1.71 in 21 innings. Bautista fanned three of five batters faced.
"That's four good starts in a row for him," Hyde said of Kremer. "I'm really happy and encouraged by how he's throwing the ball. Thought he had multiple pitches going tonight. He had confidence, he attacked, he was on the plate. He was forcing contact. That's a pretty good club and a good lineup, and he mixed pitches extremely well tonight."
The White Sox singled twice in the first inning, but Burger bounced to the mound to kill the rally. Zavala doubled with one out in the second, and Kremer responded by striking out Leury García on a changeup and Josh Harrison on a 95 mph fastball.
Tim Anderson led off the third with a single, but Andrew Vaughn and AJ Pollock flied to center field – Mullins had his back pressed against the fence for the second out – and José Abreu struck out on an 88.5 mph cutter.
Kremer had thrown 49 pitches, 33 for strikes, and kept the game scoreless.
Sheets doubled with one out in the fourth. Zavala struck out on an 89.5 mph cutter, García lined a single into right field, and Austin Hays produced his sixth outfield assist with a perfect strike to the plate.
"He's got so much carry, and then the accuracy, you just don't see that very often," Hyde said. "I feel like he's making a defensive play a night."
Hays ranks second among outfielders in the American League with six assists. Sheets had no shot against a throw clocked at 96.4 mph.
It was the second-fastest outfield assist by an Oriole since 2016. Hays, of course, is No. 1 with a 97.6 mph throw on May 20 against the Rays. He has 10 of the 11 fastest, with right fielder Craig Gentry the exception at 93.7 mph on June 12, 2018.
As if that wasn’t enough tonight, Hays sprinted to the right field line in the eighth inning and made a diving catch to rob Burger and force Abreu back to first base. He’s doing everything.
"You know the potential, he has a phenomenal arm," Rutschman said. "He's just a fun guy to watch and you get excited anytime the ball's hit his way."
Kremer hit Harrison on the right triceps leading off the fifth inning, almost knocking the second baseman off his feet. Harrison was in tremendous pain as he spun out of the box and grabbed his arm, he came out of the game in the sixth, and X-rays were negative.
Anderson flied out and Vaughn grounded into a double play in Kremer’s latest escape.
In his last three starts, Kremer has been charged with one earned run in 16 2/3 innings. His first career scoreless outing last week against the Rays was followed by another.
Mountcastle’s double and Nevin’s walk in the second inning were wasted. Mullins singled with one out in the third, tried to score on Trey Mancini’s double to left field and was cut down at the plate. The Orioles lost the challenge.
Mountcastle doubled again in the fourth, hustled to third on García’s error and trotted home when Rutschman manhandled an 88 mph cutter.
The lead grew to 3-0 in the sixth. Hays doubled with one out, Mountcastle singled to make him 3-for-3 and Rutschman lined his double to right field off López.
"I talk about process a lot and it's something that I'm going to continue to talk about because it's just how I go about my business every day," Rutschman said. "Control the controllables. But most importantly, you can control what you do on defense every day and helping out pitchers, and obviously Dean did a phenomenal job today. And Bautista, (Dillon) Tate and Lopey there at the end. Really, really fun game to catch and they all did a great job."
"He's a type of talent that could change the dynamic of a clubhouse when he gets hot, which he will pretty soon," Kremer said. "He's definitely a game-changer both behind the dish and at the plate.
"He keeps things pretty light and he individualizes it for most guys, as well. With me, he likes to keep it pretty light. We laugh and giggle whatever, even in some of the most serious times."
The outfield kept making plays for the Orioles. Mullins ran down Abreu’s drive into right-center in the sixth, Anthony Santander ended the seventh by racing toward the left field line and reaching up to grab Vaughn’s fly ball, and Mullins closed out the eighth by running down Sheets’ ball in deep center.
"Unbelievable," Kremer said. "I mean, every single guy out there, all three of them. Austin, Cedric and Tony went and got it today. I was very impressed."
"We played incredible defense," Hyde said. "We took away multiple extra-base hits. ... They're playing Gold Glove defense. They won us the game tonight defensively."
"It's fun to watch those guys track down balls," Rutschman said.
Hyde announced afterward that Austin Voth is starting Friday night and Kyle Bradish is pushed back to Saturday.
Down on the farm, Matt Harvey started his first rehab game with high Single-A Aberdeen and shut out Wilmington on four hits over six innings. Harvey walked none, struck out four and threw 56 of 81 pitches for strikes.
Terrin Vavra and Jordan Westburg homered for Triple-A Norfolk. Vavra’s leadoff homer was his first of the season.
Vavra was hit by a pitch in the third inning and left the game, and Westburg followed with his fifth home run.
Cody Sedlock lasted two innings and allowed five earned runs (six total) with five walks and four strikeouts. Beau Sulser allowed only one hit in four scoreless innings.
Zach Watson hit his fourth home run for Double-A Bowie. César Prieto started at third base and collected three hits.
Conner Loeprich tossed three scoreless innings in relief, walking none and striking out six.
Low Single-A Delmarva’s Conor Grady allowed one run and struck out six batters in five innings. Moises Chace started the first game of the doubleheader, allowed one run but no hits in 3 2/3 innings and appeared to injure his leg.