MINNEAPOLIS – Jordan Lyles keeps it pretty basic.
Just give him the ball and don’t try to take it back. Let him push deep into games, ignoring the pitch count, and protect “the boys” in the bullpen who shouldn’t have to finish his work.
Lyles has volunteered to move up a day in the rotation because he wants to spare manager Brandon Hyde the task of finding a fill-in starter based on injuries or a weather-induced doubleheader.
“When Jordan’s on the mound,” Hyde said earlier today, “you know you’re going to get a pro start.”
Sometimes, it’s much more. And many times, it just isn't enough.
Lyles shut out the Twins over 6 1/3 innings this afternoon before Nick Gordon hit a solo home run in the seventh, escaping some early jams and building momentum. He retired 13 in a row, surrendered the homer on his 100th pitch and was replaced by Dillon Tate.
And a game that tightened for the Orioles slowly began to unravel.
Less than 24 hours after surrendering Byron Buxton's walk-off home run, Jorge López was burned again, this time by Jorge Polanco, who launched a 97 mph sinker into the Orioles' bullpen leading off the ninth to tie the game. Alex Kirilloff doubled with one out, Gary Sánchez dumped a single into right field and Jose Miranda lined a two-strike pitch into left to give the Twins a 4-3 win at Target Field.
The Twins put two runners in scoring position against Tate with no outs in the eighth. Félix Bautista struck out Byron Buxton with a 101 mph fastball, Carlos Correa flied to center field to score pinch-runner Gilberto Celestino, and Max Kepler struck out.
López failed again to notch his 14th save, and the Twins are 6-for-7 against him in the last two games. He hadn't given up a home run this season in 37 innings until last night.
“It's another bad day for me,” he said, waiting at his locker for the media. “Jordan's start was really good. I mean, it's all on me. I've just got to figure it out tomorrow. These things are going to happen. It's the first time it happened to me, so I knew something was coming and I have to figure it out. I have to control it and keep it going.”
Lessons must be learned, a newcomer to the role facing his first stretch of adversity. A favorite to represent the team at the All-Star Game suddenly unable to protect its leads.
“They've got a really good lineup,” he said. “They had a really good plan and I couldn't just command it where it should be. I just keep concentrating, keep focused on my execution. It's part of the game.”
Hyde and players inside the clubhouse maintain their trust in López, confident that he'll fight his way out of the slump.
“Yeah, yeah, for sure," he said. “I've got all the support.”
“It's everyone else's job in here to keep patting him on the back and instilling that confidence,” Lyles said. “Lopey cares so much, everyone loves him. We'll continue to pat him on the back, Hyder's going to keep giving him the ball, and a week from now we won't even be discussing this.”
It's a hot topic at the moment, and it's cooling down the Orioles after a winning month of June.
“He's had a couple tough games in a row,” Hyde said, after the Orioles lost their 12th in a row at Target Field. “He's had an unbelievable first half. Two tough games are going to happen, long season, so he's going to bounce back.”
And remain the closer.
“I'm going to give him a day off tomorrow, but this guy's had an All-Star first half,” Hyde said. “He made a bad pitch on Buxton last night after a really tough at-bat against a really good hitter (Luis Arraez). And today he got the ball up a little bit to Polanco, just wasn't as sharp. He's been incredible all year.”
Anthony Santander hit his team-leading 15th home run in the third inning, a solo shot off Sonny Gray, and made a leaping catch at the left field fence in the fourth, but the Orioles (35-44) lost their fourth game in a row and are 4-5 on a trip that ends Sunday.
The game started 1 hour and 6 minutes late due to rain.
Lyles was battling the Twins and his pitch count, which rose to 38 through the second and 59 after the third.
Kepler drew a leadoff walk in the second with the count full. Polanco struck out on three pitchers, Gordon singled, Kirilloff struck out with the count full, and Sánchez grounded out on a nice play by Rougned Odor, who cut in front of Jorge Mateo to field the slow roller with his bare hand and throw across his body.
Gio Urshela led off the third by reaching on an infield hit, with Tyler Nevin bobbling the ball while making the transfer from his glove, and Luis Arraez doubled to put two runners in scoring position with no outs. Buxton hit a mile-high popup, and Correa and Kepler struck out, the latter on a foul tip with the count full.
The side was retired in the fourth on nine pitches, a refreshing breeze for Lyles, and he kept going. Ten in the fifth and nine in the sixth. A strikeout of Polanco to open the seventh.
“Really good,” Hyde said. “Our starting pitching has been on this road trip. Jordan going into the seventh there with a shutout, Gordon got him, but we've got to help out these pitchers a little bit. Scored three runs today and two last night. We didn't add on, and that doesn't help.”
Lyles held the Twins to one run and four hits, with one walk and seven strikeouts. He’s exceeded the sixth in his last three starts.
“He goes out every fifth day and gives it everything he has,” Hyde said, “and it’s great to have the young guys see how he posts.”
The rotation has a 1.60 ERA with 18 walks and 49 strikeouts in the last 12 game dating back to June 19.
“I think the slider wasn't really playing well for me, so I leaned on my curveball a little bit more early on,” Lyles said. “Later as the game went on, the slider got better, started to lean on that a little bit more. Complement that with the two-seamers running in on most of their right-handers. That was a big third inning to get out of that second and third, no outs jam with the heart of their lineup up there. It was a big part of the game. And we settled down, the later innings were pretty efficient. And then I got knocked out after a good at-bat by Gordon. At 3-2, I was going to challenge him with everything I had in the strike zone and he put a good swing on it.”
Trey Mancini’s hitting streak ended last night at eight games after he grounded out as a pinch-hitter. He started a new one today with a single in the first inning.
Gray nailed Mancini on the right forearm with a 92 mph sinker in the fourth to load the bases. Mancini flipped the bat in disgust, bent at the waist and tried to work through the pain before heading to first base. He just returned to the lineup after receiving a cortisone injection in his right hand.
Mancini was replaced in right field after batting in the top of the seventh inning.
Ryan Mountcastle and Nevin doubled in the second inning for a 1-0 lead. Mountcastle’s 20 extra-base hits since June 1 lead the American League. His 13 doubles rank second in the majors behind the Guardians’ José Ramírez (14).
Mateo drew his 14th walk, with eight coming since June 11. His sacrifice fly in the fourth gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead following Odor’s leadoff double, Robinson Chirinos’ sacrifice bunt and Nevin’s walk.
The Twins chipped away until they delivered the big blows in the ninth. It happened again.
“Going into this game, we're not really thinking about last night, even though it was very similar at the end,” Lyles said. “We've got all the faith in the world in our backend guys. Félix was amazing, and we're going to keep handing it to Lopey. He's been one of the best relievers in baseball. He's had a tricky 24 hours, so it is what it is. Those will happen during the season. But everyone in this clubhouse has faith in him.”
Lyles has experience going from starting to relieving, though the ninth inning is a different animal.
“I think it's one of the easier transitions, not having to worry about three times through the lineup,” Lyles said. “He showed really good spurts last year, and that's why Hyder has a lot of confidence to start the season with him at the backend, and he's proved everyone right. Just two outings. He's been great for three months. Two outings is two outings. He'll bounce back.”
Hyde checked on López earlier today and will do so again on Monday.
“He was ready to go in a save situation,” Hyde said.
“This is part of pitching in the backend of a 'pen. You're going to have your good days and not-so-good days. That happens. But it's how you deal with some adversity and come back from it.”
Note: Ramón Urías joined Double-A Bowie today to begin his injury rehab assignment and is starting at third base.
Coby Mayo is day-to-day after leaving last night's game with back spasms.