CLEVELAND – If the Guardians couldn’t get a run off Grayson Rodriguez tonight, maybe they’d just concentrate on getting him out of the game. Build up his pitch count with extended at-bats fueled by foul balls, dive into an Orioles bullpen that’s screaming for rest.
Rodriguez kept escaping jams to record four scoreless innings, but the Guardians broke through with two runs in the fifth. DL Hall began to warm, staying on an unplanned schedule of being used every other day.
Hall was summoned in the sixth after Rodriguez threw 99 pitches, the last striking out Kole Calhoun. The Guardians got their wish, and eventually a win.
The Orioles battled back to tie the game in the eighth, but Cionel Pérez loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom half of the inning, Ramón Laureano drew a full-count walk against Jacob Webb and the Guardians scored two more runs in a 5-2 victory at Progressive Field.
Coupled with the Rays’ walk-off win earlier today, the Orioles (95-58) saw their division lead shrink to 1 ½ games and their magic number for clinching stay at seven. They’re 50-28 on the road.
The Orioles can’t secure the division crown until Tuesday at the earliest after beginning their final homestand. They’re off Monday.
Heston Kjerstad led off the eighth with a pinch-hit single off Trevor Stephan, and pinch-runner Ramón Urías came home after Adley Rutschman doubled for his third hit and Anthony Santander grounded out. Ryan O’Hearn doubled into right-center field to knot the score and make him 9-for-18 on the road trip.
Pérez drilled Josh Naylor with a 97.2 mph sinker and walked pinch-hitter Tyler Freeman. Andrés Giménez grounded a single into right field, and manager Brandon Hyde called for Webb, who missed low with a changeup to score Naylor. Will Brennan bounced into a force at home, but Adam Frazier couldn’t make an over-the-shoulder catch of Naylor’s fly ball to right – it would have been a sacrifice fly if he did, with Aaron Hicks unable to cover the necessary ground – and Gabriel Arias’ slow roller to Webb increased the lead to 5-2.
Emmanuel Clase escaped a two-on, no-out jam in the ninth for his 42nd save.
Hall retired all four batters he faced and Jorge López registered two outs, but the rest of the bridge collapsed.
Webb didn't make it through the eighth. He loaded the bases after walking Steven Kwan, and Mike Baumann raised the reliever total to five.
Pérez hadn't been charged with an earned run or hit a batter since July 26 and hadn't issued a walk in 13 straight appearances.
"We're in a tough stretch and a lot of these guys have thrown more than they've ever before," said manager Brandon Hyde. "Cionel has been absolutely excellent for us this whole second half. Just been lights out. He just had an off night and that possibly could have been fatigue.
"Webby sucked it up. We're just trying to get through that inning somehow maybe just giving up one. Three balls not hit very hard unfortunately, they scored three runs there. Just the way our games have been the last week, our guys have had a lot of appearances. I give them a ton of credit for getting out there and trying to get big outs for us."
Rodriguez allowed five hits, walked three batters and struck out seven. Seventy-three of his pitches were strikes, and 37 came on foul balls.
That’s one way to inflate a count.
"I thought he had good stuff, threw the ball well," Hyde said. "Give them credit for kind of battling and hanging in there with some at-bats. Scored a couple runs off him there. I thought he threw the ball well. It's a pesky team that battles at the plate. A lot of foul balls cost him going deeper."
"You just try to keep battling," Rodriguez said. "Nothing you can really do. Just keep fighting."
Rodriguez threw 19 pitches in a scoreless first inning. He walked José Ramírez on 10 pitches, struck out Naylor on a changeup and watched Austin Hays race back to the left field wall and make a leaping catch to rob Kole Calhoun.
Giménez and Laureano began the second inning with singles, the latter also milking 10 pitches from Rodriguez. Brennan struck out on a 97.8 mph fastball and Naylor grounded into a double play.
A single, stolen base and walk with two outs in the third didn’t produce a run, but Rodriguez threw 22 pitches to raise his total to 62. He responded by striking out the side in the fourth on a fastball, changeup and curveball.
A leadoff walk to Naylor in the fifth would prove costly.
Kwan and Ramírez singled to break the scoreless tie and Kwan raced home on Naylor’s sacrifice fly.
"Just not attacking like I wanted to," Rodriguez said. "Obviously, wasn't very efficient. Some walks there, a lot of foul balls. Really just need to do a better job of being in the strike zone, attacking hitters."
Rodriguez has registered a 2.66 ERA in 12 starts since returning to the majors. He’s surrendered two earned runs or fewer in nine.
"Getting a little bit better," he said. "Still not where we want to be. I think there's a lot of areas to improve, but just taking it one step at a time."
Rodriguez said he feels great physically despite the workload and the eight shutout innings in his last appearance.
"It's been pretty smooth sailing so far," he said. "Ready to finish it strong."
The Orioles were slow to respond to rookie Hunter Gaddis, who hadn’t started for Cleveland since May 28. He retired the first eight batters, issued back-to-back walks to Jordan Westburg and Gunnar Henderson, and was drilled on the right leg by Rutschman’s 103.4 mph line drive for the Orioles’ first hit.
Gaddis stayed in the game and Anthony Santander flied out.
In keeping with the long at-bat theme, Westburg saw 13 pitches from Gaddis before heading to first base.
Eli Morgan entered in the fourth inning and retired all first six batters with three strikeouts. Left-hander Sam Hentges stranded Rutschman in the sixth after a one-out double. Hicks, who missed the last two games after leaving Monday's with hamstring cramps, reached on an infield hit against Reynaldo López with two outs in the seventh and Frazier struck out.
"Disappointed in our bats, honestly, early in the game," Hyde said. "I just thought we made some quick outs and we normally don't. We didn't really work the count very well. It became a bullpen game, which is not easy, and they have a good bullpen."
The Orioles rallied, but 26 relievers in five days won't often bring rewards.
* Triple-A Norfolk left-hander Bruce Zimmermann allowed four runs and nine hits with three walks and six strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings. He also worked 4 2/3 in his previous start and allowed nine runs and 15 hits.
Connor Norby slugged his 21st home run tonight and came within a triple of the cycle after hitting grand slams on back-to-back nights. He doubled and singled twice tonight.
TJ McFarland struck out three batters in a scoreless inning.