Watkins leaves early with injury, Orioles win in 11th (updated)

The Orioles won’t rush a prospect to the majors, in terms of how they dictate the pace, just to fulfill an unexpected and ill-timed need on the major league roster. They’re adamant about it. There’s no gray area in black and orange besides the uniform.

They might need to do something about their rotation after Spenser Watkins threw 13 pitches today and was drilled on the right arm by a 106-mph line drive from Tampa Bay’s Ji-Man Choi.

Watkins spun off the mound as third baseman Ramón Urías retrieved the ball, glanced home and threw late to first base. All three batters reached against Watkins, whose ouster forced Joey Krehbiel into a game that the Orioles rallied to tie with two outs in the ninth, just as a storm hit and halted play after three hours, 52 minutes.

It resumed following a 51-minute delay, Cionel Pérez tossed two scoreless innings, leaving the bases loaded in the top of the 11th, and Choi whiffed on Rougned Odor’s chopper to first base that scored automatic runner Adley Rutschman and gave the Orioles a 7-6 victory before an announced crowd of 23,778 to close out the homestand.

Chris Owings laid down a sacrifice bunt before Odor batted, and the Orioles had their third walk-off win in four days. Rutschman had his first major league run, with the play scored a fielder's choice and no error.

"Extremely satisfying, total team effort," said manager Brandon Hyde, who anticipates roster moves on Monday for fresh pitching. "Unfortunate what happened to Watty there in the first inning. I really didn't know what we were going to do because a few guys threw today that I did not want to throw because of the workload they've had this week, and they absolutely sucked it up.

"Pitching won us the game in a situation where it could have been ugly early, and they did a great job of just letting us hang around. We don't quit, and we grind it. ... Just proud of our effort, everybody contributed. Our guys play to the end."

Ryan Mountcastle led off the ninth with a single on a ball that Kevin Kiermaier failed to catch with a sliding attempt, but he walked off the field with assistant athletic trainer Patrick Wesley. The team announced that he had heat-related body cramps.

Urías walked, reliever Ryan Thompson’s balk put runners on second and third base and pinch-hitter Austin Hays lined a two-run single into left field. One strike away from defeat.

He barely had time to break out the celebratory goggles before the tarp was dragged onto the field.

"I was hoping the wind wasn't going to pick up like it did in Roogie's at-bat, start blowing clay all over the place," said Hays, who had the stitches removed from his left hand over the weekend. "Luckily, the wind held out and I could see during the at-bat."

This is only Mountcastle’s second game since coming off the injured list. Hyde didn't think the cramping would linger or be an issue in New York.

Playing in his second major league game, Rutschman was hit by a pitch in the first inning, flied out in the third, lined a single into right field in the fifth against a four-man outfield, grounded to first base in the seventh, popped up in the ninth and stranded runners on the corners in the 10th with a fly ball to the right field track.

The ovations for him were much quieter than they were Saturday night. His talent still pops.

Rutschman caught in extras because Hays pinch-hit for Robinson Chirinos and the Orioles lost their designated hitter. Ryan McKenna replaced Cedric Mullins, who made the final out in the ninth and passed along his spot in the order to the pitcher.

The automatic runner can’t be the pitcher, which put Mateo at second base in the 10th after he made the second out in the previous inning. Trey Mancini was walked intentionally and the Rays chose to pitch to Rutschman with two outs in the 10th and Owings on deck.

A few more feet and they really would have regretted it.

McKenna batted before Rutschman and flied to the base of the left field wall. Any other year …

Ralph Garza Jr. stranded two runners to carry the game past regulation, Pérez had runners on the corners with no outs in the top of the 10th and escaped.

Initial X-rays on Watkins showed only a bruised right forearm and no serious damage, but his status for his next start isn’t clear. He could be pushed back to Saturday’s doubleheader in Boston, if able to pitch, because the Orioles are off Thursday, which leaves Friday’s series opener in Kyle Bradish’s hands.

Watkins will be evaluated again on Monday.

"It's sore right now. Take 106 off the forearm, it's going to hurt," he said.

"Too early to tell. We'll see how it goes the next day or so. We'll reassess it from there."

Krehbiel came out of the bullpen holding a can of Red Bull. A fly ball from Isaac Paredes had wings, his three-run shot over the left field wall in the first inning giving Tampa Bay a 4-0 lead. Three runs were charged to Watkins.

The big early deficit appeared about 3 1/2 hours after executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias spoke glowingly of the team’s effort level and competitiveness. How the Orioles have stayed in most games, only a handful getting away from them.

This one didn’t. And it could have been a lot more with John Means unable to pitch the rest of the summer.

“I think the defense has been really good,” Elias said. “I think the biggest inconsistency has been on the offensive side, which I think was the least of our worries going into the year and continues to be the least of our worries, knowing what these guys have done in the past, what they’re capable of and the offensive reinforcements like Adley that we hope are continuing to come.

“Offensives are down around the league. This isn’t just something that’s been with our club. As the weather warms up and these guys maybe settle into a groove. I don’t know if the shortened spring training hurt the hitters, but that’s something that I think is a matter of time. And we’ve been very encouraged by the selectiveness that a lot of our young hitters have shown. I think (Austin) Hays and (Anthony) Santander in particular. That’s been a big step forward.

“Hopefully, keeping the pitching where it’s been and then getting better run production out of the lineup, I think we should continue to get more and more competitive as the years go on.”

Which should lead to a gradual increase in payroll. Money has been used to build components of an organization torn down or non-existent.

Elias indicated that the feedback from the partnership group has been positive and described the overall support as “outstanding.”

“We’ve gotten everything that we’ve needed to attack this project, and it was a very big project,” he said. “You’ve heard me talk about it. Everybody knows the position that the Orioles franchise was in at the end of 2018 and the mountain that you have to climb in the AL East, on top of all of that, and the support has been outstanding. I think everyone in the company, ownership on down, is very pleased with the foundation, the processes that have been laid, the infrastructure that we have across our organization right now, and it’s just about building and growing from here. But we’ve got blue skies ahead of us.

“We’ve got the No. 1 farm system, we’ve got a young, talented major league team, we have payroll flexibility, we’re past the pandemic and there’s going to be more and more people coming into the ballpark. We’re going to be renovating this place. There’s a lot to look forward to. I’m very excited. I feel like the most difficult, arduous part of the work that we’ve had to do is kind of behind us.

“I think we’ve got a lot of challenges ahead of us in keeping guys healthy, making the right draft picks, making the right free agent signings, bringing the right players in here, all that normal stuff that every baseball team faces. But I think the challenges that we had that were unique to the Orioles – not having international, analytics, modernizing player development, all that stuff – that’s in a really good spot and we have a pipeline underneath the young, talented team you see in front of us. But we’ve just got to make a lot of smart decisions going forward, and we know that’s not easy, either.”

The Rays never make it easy on the Orioles, beating them in 19 of 21 games before today.

Corey Kluber, a tough matchup who shut out the Orioles over 4 2/3 innings in his Rays debut, lasted only three innings today and allowed two runs and five hits.

The Orioles loaded the bases in the first inning and had Odor on third base with no outs in the second and didn’t score.

Santander singled with one out in the third, Mountcastle walked, Rutschman flied to Randy Arozarena, who made a lunging catch, and Urías singled to reduce the lead to 4-1. Mountcastle scored on another Odor double.

Odor extended his hitting streak to seven games.

Arozarena made a diving catch to deny Robinson Chirinos and perhaps save two runs from scoring. He also can be a pest in the field.

Krehbiel was charged with one run in three innings. Bryan Baker replaced him, and Kiermaier’s two-out RBI single in the fourth gave Tampa Bay a 5-2 lead.

Mountcastle homered into the Orioles bullpen leading off the fifth to reduce the lead to 5-3, and Rutschman followed with his single up the middle.

The Rays added an unearned run off Dillon Tate in the seventh after Mountcastle’s fielding error at first base. The Orioles scored an unearned run in the bottom half after back-to-back, two-out errors on second baseman Vidal Bruján and Arozarena, who dropped Robinson Chirinos’ line drive.

Mountcastle felt the cramping begin on his miscue.

"He ended up getting on base and then he felt it again," Hyde said, "so we got him out of the game."

It ended with the Orioles now 4-0 in extra innings and 1-23 when trailing after the eighth. The dramatics becoming more common. The confidence beginning to soar despite the overall record.

"We lost a lot of close games to these guys over the years, and a lot of us younger guys are starting to get some more time now and we're just continuing to fight," Hays said. "We don't want to lose those games anymore. We want to come out on top. Our bullpen's doing a great job of just keeping us in the game and giving us a chance late, and we're having great team at-bats and just passing the torch to one another."

The blue skies that Elias mentioned earlier lead the eye from Rutschman back down to the farm system, of course.

Grayson Rodriguez completed a season-high six innings today for Triple-A Norfolk and threw 86 pitches, allowing two runs and four hits with one walk and nine strikeouts. His fastest pitch was his last, clocked at 98.6 mph.

He’s getting closer.

Outfielder Kyle Stowers hit three home runs to give him nine for the season. Outfielder Robert Neustrom belted his eighth, had four hits and came within a triple of the cycle. They combined for eight RBIs, five from Stowers.

Jordan Westburg and Hunter Haskin homered at Double-A Bowie. Coby Mayo doubled twice at high Single-A Aberdeen, and Colton Cowser had a double and two singles.

On another sunny afternoon in Baltimore that turned dark, the gray skies kept clearing up.

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