The Orioles and Blue Jays are taking contrasting approaches to today’s doubleheader, an understandable development considering how only one team is preparing for the wild card round that begins on Friday.
Mike Baumann started Game 1 for the Orioles and worked into the sixth inning. The Jays used five relievers within the first five innings, including closer Jordan Romano, who stranded a pair of runners in the fourth.
No one likes a doubleheader on the final day of the regular season. It’s especially distasteful for Toronto, which led until the eighth inning.
Until rookie Terrin Vavra lined a two-out fastball from Mitch White onto the flag court in right field, his first major league homer a three-run shot that gave the Orioles a 5-4 win in the opener at Camden Yards.
One team suddenly felt a lot better about the doubleheader.
Rookie Gunnar Henderson reached base three times, with his one-out single in the eighth bringing Austin Hays to the plate as the go-ahead run. Hays took a disputed third strike, but Vavra jumped on the next pitch.
DL Hall earned his first major league win in his 11th game with a scoreless eighth inning. Bryan Baker recorded his first major league save in his 67th game.
Baker has 11 scoreless outings in a row. He struck out two batters in the ninth, exacting some revenge on his former club.
Quite the day of firsts for the Orioles.
"Just how we drew it up," said manager Brandon Hyde. "Great for all three of those guys."
Vavra is leading off and playing left field in Game 2.
"I think he's come up here and shown the ability to take a major league at-bat and the ability to manage the strike zone," Hyde said. "I like how short his swing is, I like that he uses the whole field. He's got some versatility. He's done a really good job in kind of a non-everyday role of being able to give a major league at-bat."
Baumann’s fourth major league start ended on catcher Gabriel Moreno’s three-run homer to right-center field with one out in the sixth that gave the Blue Jays a 4-0 lead. Keegan Akin replaced Baumann, who scattered nine hits and registered career highs with 5 1/3 innings and 84 pitches.
"That was very important," Baumann said. "We have a doubleheader today, so 18 innings, and to go out there and go into the sixth, first time in my career, that was great. And hopefully saved an inning and an arm in the bullpen."
Spenser Watkins starts Game 2, with the Orioles having a chance at a sweep with their record at 83-78. The had lost seven of 10 before today.
Consecutive two-out singles by Moreno, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Otto López in the second inning gave the Jays a 1-0 lead. Baumann stranded two runners in scoring position in the third. Moreno drove a slider to the opposite field in the sixth for his first major league home run.
Ryan Mountcastle had three of the Orioles’ first four hits. Mountcastle and Henderson singled off White in the sixth and they scored on Hays’ two-run double to reduce the lead to 4-2.
The Orioles posted their 36th comeback win.
"It would be nice to maybe get off the deck in the first through the fifth and then cruise. That's what I'm hoping for once in a while," Hyde said.
"No, we like to make it tough and pitch out of jams and then pop one late to get a win."
The first two batters singled off Hall in the eighth and he escaped the jam with a ground ball and two strikeouts.
Hall has allowed one run in his last eight appearances over 8 2/3 innings. He’s walked two batters and struck out 11.
"Confidence, obviously a huge arm, improvement of slider and changeup," Hyde said. "It's going to be fun to watch him going forward, whatever role he's in. I like the energy he pitches with also. He comes to the park, he's excited to be here. He wanted to go back out for the ninth. He was disappointed. When I told him I was bringing in Bake, he kind of gave me a look like, 'That stinks.' But I really, really, like the makeup on this guy and he's a real competitor."
Adley Rutschman caught his 84th and final game of his rookie season after receiving his Most Valuable Oriole award during an on-field ceremony. He threw out López trying to steal second base to end the fourth inning.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias isn’t showing his hand regarding possible contract extensions for pre-arbitration players, a list topped by Rutschman and Henderson. If it’s on the table now or in the future, those talks will remain private.
“My philosophy is that we look to do everything when it comes to player contracts, player acquisitions, on a pretty case-by-case level, and there are some things that make sense and it takes two to tango, and we look at those, we talk about them,” Elias said.
“I think in order to best advance the objectives of the Orioles franchise and ballclub, which is what I try to do in my position, I by nature am quiet about our activities in those areas unless I’m forced not to be. And so, if those conversations have happened or will happen, it’s not going to be something that I’m going to get out there and telegraph, because I also want the people I’m doing business with to know that I’m discreet about those activities. So, we’ll see.”
The idea wasn’t shot down. Elias struck an optimistic tone about the possibility.
“It’s not something that you force, but if it makes sense to both sides, they tend to happen,” Elias said. “Hopefully, we’ll have some of that.”
The Orioles also could part with some of their prospects this winter in exchange for veteran upgrades, whether on the pitching staff or in the lineup, where a lack of run production tended to drag down the team.
“I think we’re going to have to if we want to import players from trade,” Elias said. “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get it done without sending any prospects. I really like the players that we’ve been drafting and developing and trading for, but this is part of the business, and that’s why you amass such depth in your organization. There’s a 40-man roster, there’s a Rule 5 draft, you can’t keep everybody and you also can’t play everybody.
“We just want to keep stacking good players and good drafts and good international development so that we’re able to use our players, because we don’t have the same amount of money as the Yankees, you know? There’s going to be times when our richness in players is going to be what we have to lean into in order to win out here.”
No. 1 pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez must be added to the 40-man roster over the winter. Elias also expects infielder Jordan Westburg, the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year, to be at major league camp for spring training.
Rodriguez didn’t have his contract selected after recovering from a lat strain.
“They both had very successful Triple-A seasons,” Elias said. “Grayson obviously had a very unfortunately timed injury. I’m very proud of the way he got over that, and he got over that on the compressed side of the timeframe, probably as quick as possible. So, everything’s looking great there.
“With an injury like he had, it’s still something to be mindful of, even at this moment in time. I think he’s going to have it way in the rearview mirror when he comes into spring training next year, and I hope he makes our opening day rotation. I think that’s a very high likelihood.”
Elias suggested again that payroll will increase from $64.8 million this season, which could happen via free agent spending or trades. The Orioles also have raises due to their arbitration-eligible players.
“I don’t want to announce a budget to the agent community, nor the other 29 teams, but I do continue to view this as an offseason where we’re going to have the flexibility to invest in the major league payroll in a different way than I have done since I’ve been here,” Elias said.
“The moves are going to have to make sense. We’re not going to force it, but we feel that the time is right from a strategic standpoint. In fact, the time is pressing to do that now that we have the foundation of the top farm system in baseball and a major league team that is young and talented. And now with a .500-plus record, this is the time to start to make more significant investments in the major league payroll. Whether that comes in the form of free agents or buy-side trades, I don’t know yet, but I would expect one if not both of those types of activities from us.
“And also, we’re interested in bringing more fans into the park and bringing our revenues back up and making the organization more healthy from a business standpoint so that we can continue to grow in the future. So, that’s all part of it. And I think this is going to be a pretty pivotal next 12 month for us in that regard.”