The Orioles didn’t wait until the later innings tonight to flip the switch on their offense.
Austin Hays swung at the first pitch thrown by Daniel Lynch, began to backpedal up the first base line before turning his body, and slowed the pace as the ball settled into the seats in the left field corner.
Gunnar Henderson singled in the second inning, stole second base and scored on Jorge Mateo’s single.
Unlike Hays after his swing, the Orioles were pointed in the right direction.
Henderson produced his first career three-hit game, Tyler Wells was charged with two runs in 6 2/3 innings, and the Orioles began their homestand with a 3-2 victory over the Royals before an announced crowd of 18,076 at Camden Yards.
Hays also doubled and raised his average to .306, and the Orioles improved their record to 39-24.
The Royals (18-45) have lost seven of their last eight games and scored 19 runs during that span.
Left-hander Cole Irvin will be recalled to start Saturday afternoon’s game and try to set up the Orioles for a series win. They haven’t lost a home series to the Royals since 2014.
Hays ambushed Lynch, who threw a 92.3 mph fastball and watched it hook away from the deeper section in left and land 357 feet away. Hays doubled off the bullpen fence leading off the fifth and scored on Anthony Santander’s double.
"Haysy really sparked us tonight at the top of the order," said manager Brandon Hyde, whose team hadn't won back-to-back games since May 24-25. "It was nice to get a couple runs early."
The Orioles didn't score Wednesday until the ninth inning and yesterday until the seventh. They were more impatient tonight, in a good way.
"There weren't too many pitches thrown (11) in the top of the first inning, so I felt like I was freed up to get after the first pitch if he threw something over the middle," Hays said. "I was able to get a barrel on it and hit it where it was a little more shallow down the line over there.
"We had a tough stretch on the road there, the schedule and just not being able to put up enough runs. To bounce game today and get a big game one win was huge for us."
Henderson lined a single into right-center field at 106.9 mph with one out in the second, more loud contact following his go-ahead two-run homer yesterday in Milwaukee. Mateo stole second and third base after his RBI single to raise his total to 16.
Henderson also singled and stole second base in the fourth, the two swiped bags doubling his season total, and he singled again in the sixth on a ground ball up the middle. He’s 8-for-22 in his last seven games to raise his average to .220.
"He's had some struggles against left-handed pitching this year," Hyde said. "He gets the start against a good left-handed starter, and beautiful swings. I think he got some confidence going on the road trip.
"To go left-on-left and square three balls up, that makes me feel real good for him. He also got a couple bags. That was fun to watch."
It's also noteworthy. Henderson is the first Orioles rookie with two steals in a game since Matt Angle on Sept. 19, 2011 in Boston.
Aaron Hicks singled in the third inning, walked in the eighth and has reached base in all eight of his games with the Orioles. He also accounted for their fifth stolen base of the night.
Wells began the day leading the majors with 0.85 WHIP and ranking second to Shohei Ohtani with a .178 opponent average. His WHIP would have ranked second in franchise history among ERA qualifiers behind Dave McNally’s 0.84 in 1968, according to STATS, and his opponent average would be the best in club history.
Tonight’s start kept Wells’ WHIP at 0.85 and nudged his opponent average to .181.
The only run allowed with Wells on the mound came in the third inning on Nicky Lopez’s one-out triple - Ryan McKenna came within inches of making a spectacular diving catch in right-center - and Nick Pratto’s fly ball. Wells registered his fourth quality start after Mike Baumann inherited a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, threw a wild pitch and struck out Lopez on a 97.7 mph fastball.
Wells retired 10 in a row after Bobby Witt Jr.’s single in the fourth. Maikel Garcia and Michael Massey singled with two outs in the seventh and Drew Waters walked to bring Hyde out of the dugout.
Hyde made the switch with Wells at 92 pitches and an out away from matching his career high in innings. The right-hander allowed five hits, walked one batter, struck out four and lowered his ERA to 3.24.
"Tyler Wells was fantastic," Hyde said. "Kept his pitch count down and moved the ball around and kept guys off balance. Had a little trouble getting through the seventh, unfortunately, but I thought he was just absolutely excellent tonight."
Wells induced only seven swings and misses. His steak of five straight games with at least seven strikeouts was tied with Erik Bedard (2007) for the second-longest in club history behind Connie Johnson's eight in 1957.
"I didn't think he had his best fastball tonight," Hyde said. "I thought he had to rely on some other things and locate his pitches. I thought he got better as the game went on. ... He's just growing as a starting pitcher. Not a ton of innings on the mound as a starter. Not a veteran, by any means. And for him to keep improving the way he is is a credit to him."
Said Wells: "I felt like I was kind of struggling to find myself in the first, probably, three or four innings. Kind of got myself in a groove in the fifth, sixth, and then kind of fell out of it in the seventh. I definitely think my secondary stuff kept me in it, mixing speeds. Adley was great back there, calling a lot of pitches I wasn't really thinking about at the time, and I think it kept them off balance. I would say it was a little bit of a grind as far as me trying to locate my stuff. I didn't feel like I had my best stuff. But because of great teamwork with the defense behind me and then, obviously, the communication that me and Adley had, I was lucky enough to go deep in the game."
Yennier Cano gave up two singles in the eighth but won a nine-pitch battle with Salvador Perez by inducing a 6-4-3 double play. Félix Bautista struck out two in the ninth and notched his 17th save.
The lead had stayed 3-1 after Waters sprinted into left-center and made a diving catch to rob Mateo in the sixth. Henderson broke early for second base on another stolen base attempt and was thrown out.
Pratto charged Rutschman’s sinking liner in the seventh and made a sliding catch.
The Royals are bad, but they can be a pesky bunch.
The Orioles are aiming much higher.
* The Orioles' streak of striking out nine or more batters ended at seven in a row.
* Kansas City first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino left the game with right shoulder discomfort.
* Grayson Rodriguez started for Triple-A Norfolk and struck out 10 batters in seven innings. He allowed three runs and seven hits with one walk, and he threw 98 pitches.
Heston Kjerstad’s first Triple-A home run was an inside-the-park. Jordan Westburg hit his 16th home run. Terrin Vavra batted leadoff and hit a two-run homer. Connor Norby hit his seventh, and José Godoy his fourth.
Zach Watson homered twice for Double-A Bowie to raise his total to six. Shayne Fontana hit his first.
Cade Povich allowed four runs and six hits with five walks and five strikeouts in four innings. His ERA increased to 5.55.
High-A Aberdeen’s Trace Bright tossed four scoreless innings with one hit and seven strikeouts.
Carter Young stays hot, hitting his third home run with Single-A Delmarva.