Orioles jump Bieber early and get seven scoreless innings from Bradish to win series (updated)

CLEVELAND – The question made manager Brandon Hyde pause for a few seconds this afternoon, only to smile and load up the obvious response.

How big of a challenge does Shane Bieber present to the Orioles?

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “For me, he’s one of the best pitchers in the American League, if not baseball, the last handful of years. We have not swung the bat well against him since I’ve been here.”

The past wasn’t given any respect tonight. A team with a short memory is in the wild card race for the long haul.

Cedric Mullins homered on the first pitch of the game and Anthony Santander homered on the first pitch thrown to him. Two runs on the board in the first inning. Ryan Mountcastle hit his 19th homer in the fourth, the chain in the dugout placed around another neck.

A road trip that could have crushed the Orioles only made them stronger. Just like their rematch with Bieber.

Kyle Bradish tossed seven scoreless innings to run his streak to 15, and the Orioles won back-to-back series with a 3-0 victory over the Guardians at Progressive Field.

The outcome allowed the Orioles (69-61) to gain a half-game on the idle Blue Jays, leaving them 1 ½ back for third place in the division and the last wild card spot.

The trip began with the Orioles winning two of three in Houston, missing out on the sweep on the final day. The Astros have the best record in the league. The Guardians lead their division.

“I’ll take it," Hyde said. "We go 4-2 on the trip against Houston and Cleveland, and the pitching staffs that they have and the playoff-type teams that they have. Really proud of our guys.”

"I think it's important to get these series wins," Santander said via interpreter Brandon Quinones. "Getting that series win against Houston was huge for us and gave us the confidence to come in here, as well, and fight really hard to get a win here."

Bradish tore through both lineups, shutting out the Astros on two hits through eight innings and the Guardians on two hits through seven. He issued a one-out walk in the seventh tonight, retired the last two batters and headed to the dugout at 94 pitches, met at the line by catcher Adley Rutschman for a congratulatory pat.

This is a different pitcher since returning from the injured list.

His slider was particularly sharp tonight and he worked ahead in the count with first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters. He's working from the other side of the rubber. And the Orioles posted back-to-back shutouts to give them 13 this season, the most since 2014.

They hadn't registered consecutive shutouts twice in a season since 2012.

“His delivery is way more in sync," Hyde said. "Not trying to overthrow the baseball. You don’t see those up misses that you saw a lot early, just by trying to do too much. Now he’s pitching. It’s not easy to do what he just did in two road-trip starts.

“I had no idea going in what we were going to do rotation-wise, bullpen-wise, a bunch of guys who hadn’t pitched much in the big leagues in the bullpen, and besides (Jordan) Lyles, really inexperienced in the rotation. We’ve had guys step up. That’s what you need. You need guys to improve. Kyle Bradish gave up one hit for me. The first hit was borderline at best, a chopper that got through, and that was it. Without his best stuff, without his best command. So, you see a young pitcher really improving in the big leagues just like Dean Kremer is. I’m pumped with how much our guys have improved.”

Bradish is the first starter in Orioles history to record consecutive starts of seven or more scoreless innings with two hits or fewer. He's the first Orioles rookie starter with a scoreless streak of 15 or more innings since Zack Britton from May 6-18, 2011.

"I'm happy," he said. "It just means all the work I've been putting in is paying off right now."

"We've been talking about it, his pitches have been on fire lately, he's been on fire lately," Santander said. "He's been commanding his pitches really well, and we're happy with what we've been seeing out of him, and hopefully he can continue doing that and help us continue to push for the playoffs going forward."

Bieber faced the Orioles in June and held them to two runs and three hits with 11 strikeouts over seven innings. He was 3-0 in three career starts against them, with only two runs allowed and 37 strikeouts in 24 innings.

The Cy Young candidate posted a 1.62 ERA last month. He surrendered one home run in his last six starts. And the Orioles treated him like just another hurdle that they could clear.

The three home runs tied Bieber’s season high on July 24 in Chicago. He struck out eight batters through the fourth and trailed 3-0.

Bieber lasted seven innings and struck out 11, but the early damage was done.

“He’s a great starting pitcher,” Hyde said. “Sometimes you’ve got to get to those guys early. We got a couple balls on the heart of the plate and our guys took great swings on them. Mullins and Santander, that was huge for us to get on the board early. We talk about scoring first a lot, and that was huge for us. It allowed Kyle to have a little bit of breathing room and go out there and compete like he did.”

Mullins has four leadoff home runs this season and 15 in his career. Santander ranks first on the club with 24 homers and 74 RBIs.

Mountcastle was 1-for-18 before clearing the wall in left-center field.

"Getting that first-pitch homer from Ced, and then Tony following it up was huge," Bradish said. "And then we get another insurance run later. It was great."

"Super important," Santander said. "I want to, first of all, give credit to Cedric for starting things off for us with a big home run, and soon after I came along and added to that with my own home run, as well. Thankfully, we did a good job tonight of allowing our pitcher to go seven innings and give us a good chance to win out there."

Bradish issued back-to-back walks with one out in the third, struck out Amed Rosario on three pitches and retired José Ramírez on a fly ball.

Playing his first major league game at shortstop, Gunnar Henderson turned an impressive double play in the fourth inning by charging Oscar González’s bouncer and fielding in on the short hop, cutting toward the bag for the out and firing to first base.

Henderson robbed Rosario leading off the sixth by diving to his right to corral a ground ball. Mountcastle dug out the throw and pointed to the rookie.

"Wow," Bradish said. "As advertised. Two great plays today, a homer yesterday, a stolen bag. He's a good player."

"Just very impressive overall," Santander said.

"It's great," Rutschman said. "I'm fortunate to be able to watch him right now, to be able to do his thing, make his debut. You know the emotions that he's going through, and just to see him handle it so well, just with such maturity and class, it speaks a lot to his character. Obviously, the talent's there. It's just been fun to watch."

Rutschman is available for counseling as the more experienced of the two.

"It's tough to kind of dissect how each guy's going to handle the emotions of that," Rutschman said. "You pick your spots here and there, but for the most part just let him do his thing and let him know that you're there for him if he has any questions, and you're there to support him in any way that he needs. But just seeing how different guys handle it is very interesting and he's done a great job so far."

The side was retired in the sixth on only six pitches to leave Bradish at 76. He threw 18 in the seventh and was done.

"He's just learning as he goes," Rutschman said. "He's continued to do the work on his end to get better and learn, and you're seeing the results right now. It's just been fun to catch. He's on fire and it's just a tribute to his work ethic."

Cionel Pérez struck out two of the three batters he faced in the eighth and Félix Bautista notched his 11th save by following a leadoff walk with two strikeouts and a ground ball.

Bautista and Rutschman exchanged thumbs-up gestures, an idea that the closer hatched a while ago.

"Before the game one time he came up to me and was like, 'We're doing this afterward,'" Rutschman said. "I was like, 'All right,' so he wanted to do something different, so we're doing a little something different right now."

Henderson singled in the ninth to give him three hits in eight major league at-bats, and he also collected his first stolen base. The Orioles are 2-0 with him on the roster.

And they finally beat Bieber.

“I think our guys have a ton of confidence," Hyde said. "That stretch we had when we won 10 in a row and started winning a lot of series, it just builds confidence. We’ve beaten good teams, we’ve beaten some of the best teams in baseball in their parks, and we’ve won a lot of series. I know the league has taken notice.”

"I think it just puts (everyone) on notice that we're a for-real team this year," Bradish said. "We're going to come in and play everybody hard. It doesn't matter who you are."

Down on the farm, Tyler Wells begins his injury rehab assignment Friday night at high Single-A Aberdeen, where Grayson Rodriguez started tonight and threw 31 pitches in 1 1/3 scoreless innings. He left after walking two batters.

Rodriguez allowed one hit and struck out a batter.

Connor Norby hit his 15th home run for Double-A Bowie. Noah Denoyer tossed four scoreless and hitless relief innings with one walk and six strikeouts.

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