More to digest with Orioles before they try to devour another series

The Orioles are two-thirds through their road trip and keep winning more than they lose, which seems like a solid plan the rest of the way.

Is it always pretty? Not even close to that, but what matters is the final score and a 21-10 record.

They didn’t win their 21st game last season until May 30 in Boston. They had 29 losses and nobody was predicting playoffs.

If there really is a soft spot in a major league schedule, the Orioles zipped past it. They play the first-place Braves, with the second-best record in baseball, in a three-game series before returning home and facing the first-place Rays, who possess the best record at 26-6 and have a plus-114 run differential.

The Orioles won two of three games at Truist Park in 2018. The opener lasted 15 innings and the Orioles prevailed 10-7 after they scored six runs in the top of the ninth and Zack Britton was charged with four in the bottom half to send the game to extras. Manny Machado homered in the 15th.

Mark Trumbo hit a grand slam in the first inning in the next game, Chris Davis had a three-run double in the fifth for a 7-1 lead, and the Orioles held on for a 7-5 win. Sound familiar?

The Braves avoided the sweep with a 7-3 win and improved to 44-32. The Orioles were 23-53 and nearing the start of their teardown and rebuild.

Dean Kremer (2-1, 6.67 ERA) and left-hander Max Fried (2-0, 0.45 ERA) are on the mound tonight, with first pitch at the weird time of 7:20 p.m. The only game broadcast on MASN, by the way. FOX and Peacock are handling the other two, while also sounding like a Disney movie.

Kyle Bradish (1-1, 6.14 ERA) and Tyler Wells (2-1, 3.34 ERA) start the last two games for the Orioles, while Atlanta starts Spencer Strider (4-0, 2.57 ERA) and Bryce Elder (3-0, 1.75 ERA).

The Orioles’ rotation ranks 25th in the majors with a 5.65 ERA, making the club’s 21-10 record even more impressive. The Braves’ rotation is fourth with a 3.31 ERA.

Let’s get to a few more observations before I get to Georgia.

* The Orioles aren’t comfortable winning comfortably.

They just can’t do it. Not in their DNA.

Take an 8-1 lead in the third inning yesterday against a team with the second-worst record in baseball, watch it shrink to 8-6 by the fourth and fall behind 9-8 in the seventh. Haven’t won by more than five runs in their first 31 games. Ten victories were decided by two runs or fewer. Three victories by three runs, including yesterday’s 13-10 slugfest that produced the Orioles’ seventh series win in a row.

Manager Brandon Hyde tries to laugh about it, but he also reminds everyone that it’s OK to win by a lot. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t forbid it.

“It’s like going to the dentist a little bit,” Hyde told reporters yesterday.

A quote that belongs on … wait for it … a plaque.

* Left-hander Cionel Pérez has a long leash, but exactly what length are we talking about here?

Pérez was so good last season, and unexpectedly after he posted a 6.38 ERA and 1.708 WHIP in 25 appearances with the Reds in 2021 and averaged 7.5 walks per nine innings. He walked six batters in 6 1/3 innings with the Astros in 2020, and seven in 11 1/3 in 2018.

The Orioles turned Pérez into a high-leverage lefty reliever last summer when he was 7-1 with a 1.40 ERA and 1.162 WHIP in 66 games and averaged 3.3 walks.

Is this the regression that we always hear about, or just a tiny mechanical flaw that can be fixed? Is it more quirk than concern?

Pérez let an inherited runner score yesterday and allowed a run the next inning to raise his ERA to 5.25 with a 2.417 WHIP in 15 appearances.  He’s allowed 21 hits and walked eight batters in 12 innings, and opponents are batting .389 against him.

Right-handed batters were 16-for-29 against him before yesterday. Left-handers were 2-for-18, but they did the damage, with Vinnie Pasquantino greeting him with an RBI single in the fourth, MJ Melendez leading off the fifth with a single and Michael Massey delivering a two-out RBI double.

Another reminder that Pérez can’t be optioned.

* Adam Frazier is vastly underrated as a base stealer.

I’m sure that I gave away the answer, but I’ll ask anyway: Who ranks third on the club in steals behind Jorge Mateo and Cedric Mullins with 11 each?

Yes, Frazier, who swiped his fifth bag yesterday in six attempts. He drew a leadoff walk against Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning, advanced to second base on a balk, and got a huge jump and stole third, and scored on Ramón Urías two-run single.

Frazier stole a career high 11 bases last season over 156 games with the Mariners. He isn’t blessed with sprinter's speed but he’s a smart baserunner, as Hyde points out, and he’s far from a plodder.

* Urías is one of the most underrated players in baseball.

I’m saying this about a guy who won a Gold Glove at third base last year.

Urías gets overlooked a lot, and part of the reason is that he doesn’t have a set position. He’s sort of back in a utility role with starts at second and third, and with the ability to play shortstop.

But utility suggests lots of bench time, and Urías has been in the lineup in 23 games. He wasn’t in it yesterday but went 2-for-2 with four RBIs after pinch-hitting for Gunnar Henderson in the eighth.

Urías is the first Oriole with four RBIs off the bench in a nine-inning game since Steve Clevenger on Sept. 11, 2015 versus the Royals. He’s batting .280/.372/.402 with seven doubles, a home run and 15 RBIs, and he’s expected in tonight’s lineup against a lefty.

* Austin Hays is tough as nails and don’t ever question it.

Hays has made more stops on the injured list than he wants to count, but it takes a lot to sideline him. Some freakish mishaps. A 96 mph fastball in his left rib cage in 2020, though he played in the next seven games before slamming into a fence and finally conceding that he was hurt.

The Black Knight from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” would love Hays. Tis but a scratch.

(If that reference escapes you, I’m sure it’s streaming somewhere. Find it.)

Hays avoided the IL last season and played through pain, mostly in his wrist. He almost had his right middle finger crushed by Corey Kluber’s 88 mph sinker this year while trying to bunt in an April 25 game, but he finished the at-bat and flied to deep right field.

He played both ends of a doubleheader four days later and went 4-for-8 with a double.

I don’t know how he swung a bat.

The finger is grotesque. I know contusions, and that isn’t a contusion. It’s a wound that needed to be cleaned up Wednesday after he went 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in the series opener.

Hyde kept him out of the lineup in the last two games. Hays insisted to reporters yesterday that he was available to hit Wednesday night, but that must be code for pinch-run because Hyde sent up Ryan McKenna to bat for Kyle Stowers.

The Orioles don’t want the gash to reopen. He might return to the lineup tonight against Fried.

“He’s one of the tougher players I’ve ever been around,” Hyde said yesterday.

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