TORONTO – They recently took two of three at home against the Tampa Bay Rays. And Friday as the Orioles started their first stretch of the year playing AL East opponents in back-to-back series, they got off to a winning start thanks to a pitcher that enjoys being a tone setter.
Right-hander Kyle Gibson, at 35 the oldest player on the club, has said he enjoys the challenge of pitching series-opening games. He has now done this five times this season and the Orioles are 4-1 in those games and they were shut out the only time they didn’t win.
But what a tone that was set last night. Gibson went seven innings at Rogers Centre allowing one run as the Orioles won 6-2 to improve to 13-2 in series openers and 8-0 in such games on the road.
Said manager Brandon Hyde: “Gibson definitely pitched like an ace tonight, there’s no doubt. This is such a tough environment to pitch in. A really good hitter’s ballpark against a powerhouse offensive team. For Kyle to go seven innings against them in their home ballpark, that is next level.”
The Orioles pitching has been stepping up the last few weeks against some good teams with a staff ERA of 3.04 the past 14 games and a rotation ERA of 3.29 in that span, allowing three runs or less nine times. The Orioles now have 13 quality starts and have gone 12-1 in those games.
In the first inning last night, Gibson gave up three hard-hit balls needing an outfield assist to help him put up a zero. Then he gave up his only run in the second inning. But things started to turn for him not long after. A key double play ball in the fourth was big and he had quick innings in the fifth through the seventh when he needed just 34 pitches to get those nine outs.
“I thought he started mixing (pitches) a little better honestly,” said Hyde. “He and Adley worked really well together and did a nice job between innings of kind of setting up the next inning. Such a dangerous lineup.”
Gibson was glad to go seven and help the bullpen get some innings off, although he doesn’t go into games putting pressure on himself to do so.
“I try to avoid asking when the bullpen is taxed, when they need this, when they need that,” he said. “For me going seven innings is the goal every time. Think I got within a few innings of 200 once and if you go seven over 30 starts, that’s how you get there. I mean seven innings is the goal. If you can have some quick innings in the middle like Adley and I were able to do in the middle, sometimes you can get there.”
And sometimes you can set a great tone for a big series. Like Friday night, for instance.
“Yeah I think so,” Gibson said of the importance of such. “On the road, division opponent and they have a really good team. A team that has hopes to go far in the postseason like we do. Yeah, anytime you can go in on the road and win the first game, we’ve been really good at first games of series and anytime we can go do that (it’s big). I think not using as much of the bullpen is good too.”
Scoreless run ends: Bullpen right-hander Yennier Cano’s run of 17 straight scoreless games to begin a season – the third-longest season-opening stretch in club history – ended Friday night. He gave up a single, double and RBI groundout as a 4-1 lead shrunk to 4-2. But facing Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as the tying run in the box he won a nine-pitch battle and struck him out swinging on a 92 mph changeup.
“That was an out that I really needed to get,” said Cano, speaking through translator Brandon Quinones of the showdown with Vladdy. “Getting that was huge because then we had two outs. I was happy I could locate the pitches well and come through in that situation."
And about the end of his scoreless run, which was 21 2/3 innings as he took the mound last night?
“Without a doubt, you know, I’m not a robot. It was bound to happen. I’m happy with my inning the way things went,” he said.
Hyde was impressed with the poise Cano showed and noted his velocity was up but said maybe that impacted movement on his pitches and not in a good way.
“You know I thought his stuff, he was throwing 98 tonight with 93 mph changeups," said Hyde. "It was almost like it was flattening out because it was so much harder. But, give them credit, they had a really good approach off him. … But huge punchout of Guerrero and he wasn’t going to pitch a scoreless season, but yeah the way he grinded through that inning was outstanding.”
Cano said he was jacked up for this outing and game and that may be the reason for increased velocity.
“Yeah I would say the emotions, the crowd tonight, definitely didn’t want to allow any more runs. Big game, big situation, it was a mix of those things," he said.
The only two longer scoreless outing game streaks than Cano's 17 to begin a season in O's history were the 18 by Donnie Hart in 2016 and a 25-game run by Will Ohman in 2010.
Nice start to the weekend: Over the years the Orioles had their share of tough defeats and blowout losses at Rogers Centre. So to take the big series opener last night and do it by pitching, hitting and defending well, it was yet another statement by this team that they will be a challenge for other AL East clubs this year.
While the Orioles are 7-6 on the season against the AL East, they are also 5-2 in their past seven within the division. Toronto is 5-10 in division games and 1-8 in its last nine in the division, going 0-4 versus Boston, 1-3 against New York and then losing Friday night.
Said Ryan Mountcastle who hit yet another homer off Toronto pitching: “Any AL East series is going to be big. For us to come out here and get a first game W is huge. We’ve got a tough matchup next with (Alek) Manoah and we’re excited to try and win the series tomorrow.”
Mountcastle now has 15 homers and 36 RBIs in 43 career games against Toronto and six homers in 16 games in Toronto at Rogers Centre. The last two years against lefty Yusei Kikuchi, he is 5-for-7 with a double, four homers and eight RBIs.
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