CHICAGO – In the ever-changing world of the Orioles’ starting rotation, Spenser Watkins is back in it and Austin Voth receives at least temporary housing as the Orioles stretch him out.
This is how they do it. Try to find a set five and be ready to scramble.
Bruce Zimmermann was optioned and Kyle Bradish went on the 15-day injured list. Dean Kremer was activated from the IL and later recalled from the minors. John Means’ locker no longer has his nameplate above it.
Where or when it stops, nobody knows.
Nobody cares if the Orioles keep winning.
Watkins held the White Sox to an unearned run over five innings, Austin Hays cleared the bases with a double in the seventh, and the bullpen was stingy again in a 6-2 victory at Guaranteed Rate Field.
The final pitch by Lance Lynn struck Trey Mancini’s left hand with the bases loaded in the seventh inning. Mancini headed to the dugout in obvious pain, returned to first base and scored on Hays’ three-run double.
The Orioles (34-39) are five games below .500 for the first time since May 13. They hadn’t won four in a row in a season since Sept. 4-8, 2020.
"Early on there was always that sense that this team can really come together and be something special," Watkins said. "Unfortunately, the (elbow) injury happened, but I was still able to be with the team for those 15 days. And once Rutsch (Adley Rutschman) was added, it brought another energy aspect that really helped fuel everything. You see it from the outside. When I was down there I was able to watch the games and see how much fun everybody has and do all that. This team has really come together and it's a really fun thing to be a part of.
"This clubhouse is much more loose. We're having a lot of fun. This team plays for each other, which is really great. Not that last year didn't, but you can really feel that when you come into this clubhouse."
A win on Sunday would give the Orioles their first four-game sweep in Chicago since 1995.
"I'm seeing guys that are playing with a ton of energy, playing to win," said manager Brandon Hyde. "I think we're playing with some confidence right now. I think when you pitch, your team gets confidence, and when your starting pitchers keep you in the game, and then your bullpen's been doing what we're capable of doing all year, it's a great mentality, because you feel you can finish games off. And it's a good feeling in the dugout."
"It's been awesome," Mancini said. "We come to the park every day and expect to win, and that's not a feeling we've had here in a long time. It's just been so much fun and I've really been enjoying the guys, and myself out there this year. It's just been great to be a part of."
After retiring all 18 batters last night, the bullpen shut out the White Sox today for 3 2/3 innings. Dillon Tate began the ninth by hitting two batters and Gavin Sheets scored with two outs on a ground ball.
Tate worked the last two innings, following Bryan Baker and Nick Vespi. The White Sox managed only one hit against the crew.
"Obviously, our body of work over the year has been good so far, so it's pretty awesome to feed off each other and see one guy after another go out there and try to put up a zero," said Baker, who's also sporting a mustache in order to fit in with his teammates.
"It's great. It's really fun to kind of feed off each other's energy and see guys go out there and have success and just go right at guys and really make the other team beat us. It's really cool to be part of."
The start was delayed 1 hour and 21 minutes by rain. Lynn finally took the mound and struck out two while retiring the side in order.
The first eight Orioles came up empty, but Jorge Mateo homered into the left field seats. Fans booed as he rounded the bases, still agitated over last night’s bench- and bullpen-clearing incident that, like an episode of “Seinfeld,” was really about nothing.
Cedric Mullins and Mancini singled, and Hays was robbed on a diving catch by rookie second baseman Lenyn Sosa.
Mateo’s five home runs are a career high, and his double in the fifth gave him a career-high 17 extra-base hits. He scored the go-ahead when shortstop Leury García booted Mullins’ ground ball after ranging to his left.
"Anything he gives us offensively is a big-time bonus," Hyde said. "He's got 19 stolen bases on the year. If he was hitting 40 points higher he'd probably have 25 to 30. ... I know he's been grinding in the cage to try to get out of a little bit of a funk, and great to see him rewarded with two big hits today."
Sosa had scored the tying run in the third inning after reaching on Tyler Nevin’s throwing error. Luis Robert dumped a single into right-center field with two outs, Mateo couldn’t field Hays’ throw and Sosa restarted his motor and raced home.
Hays tried to make a diving catch, retrieved the ball, jumped to his feet and short-hopped Mateo, who nonetheless was charged with the error. Hays put a glove over his face and vented, protecting lip-readers who might be watching.
Watkins threw 21 pitches in a scoreless first inning, striking out AJ Pollock to escape a jam after walking Andrew Vaughn and surrendering José Abreu’s two-out double.
Gavin Sheets led off the second with a single and was thrown out trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt.
An infield hit and two-out single in the fourth were followed by a fly ball that left Watkins at 70 pitches and still just the one unearned run. He pumped his fist as he walked to the dugout, where Hyde gave him a fist-bump and slap on the back.
Hyde intended to limit Watkins to around 85 pitches today. He let Watkins return for the fifth and was rewarded with an eight-pitch inning.
"Five really strong innings," Hyde said. "Loved the way he kept guys off balance, love the way he threw a bunch of strikes. The cutter was good, threw some good curveballs, and mixed extremely well. Got everything we were hoping for out of Spenser today."
"Extremely pleased," Watkins said. "Very pleased to be able to give the team a chance to win, especially with the momentum they've already carried into this series and so far in this series."
Mancini was hit on the hand by a 93 mph fastball after Toronto’s Alek Manoah nailed him on the right hand during the last road trip. This one forced in a run after Robinson Chirinos was hit, Mateo walked with two outs and Mullins reached on an infield single.
The booing grew louder when Hays drove a ball into left-center field.
Mancini underwent a precautionary X-ray and had the hand wrapped, but said he was fine.
"It's the other hand," Hyde said, "so evened it out."
"It's OK, definitely better than the one from Toronto, so I'm not too concerned about it at all," Mancini said. "Been getting hit a decent amount this year, but obviously, the last thing he's trying to do in that situation is hit me. Just got away from him a little bit on an inside pitch, and I think that's why I've been hit a lot this year is guys just trying to come inside and it gets away from them. Unfortunate, but at least got us a run and got Haysy up there for a big hit."
The Orioles are starting Tyler Wells, Kremer and Voth in the three-game series in Seattle that begins Monday. The Orioles are off Thursday and can bring back Watkins on Friday in Minnesota if they stay in order.
"This game's all about pitching, and we've pitched extremely well as of late," Hyde said. "You've got to pitch to win in this league, and we've done that."
"It's really fun kind of getting on this little roll," Baker said. "And hopefully we can continue this throughout the road trip and keep the momentum rolling. But it's really fun to be part of and I think the vibe's pretty high right now."
"I think the bullpen stands out a lot," Mancini said, "the way they have performed, every single one of them. Most of them are waiver claims, and our staff has done an incredible job of utilizing their strengths, and those guys are coming in there and commanding the strike zone, going after guys. They're not afraid. That's been a huge difference-maker.
"The first couple weeks of the season we got off to a slow offensive start and we've really come around and hit our stride, and everybody's playing together, trust the guy behind them to get the job done. It's just been so fun to be a part of. I'm really proud of the guys."
Maybe too soon to say they've turned the corner in the rebuild, but no reason to dissect it that much.
"I don't know if it's something that we think about or talk about too much," Mancini said. "We come to the field every day and we think we're a really good team. We don't think about the rebuild or what expectations were for us before the year. We come to the ballpark and we expect to play well and expect to win. That's just our mindset, so we don't really talk about that too much."