Orioles rookie David Hess struck out Bryce Harper on three pitches tonight in the top of the first inning, freezing him on a slider and sending him back to the Nationals dugout. He got ahead of Harper 0-2 in the third inning, watched the count go full and then saw a changeup disappear into the left field seats.
It would be one of only two mistakes from Hess, who retired the last 10 batters he faced and worked through the sixth inning with only one run against him.
The other mistake was pitching in the same game as Max Scherzer.
An Orioles offense that keeps pressing the mute button managed only three baserunners against Scherzer over eight innings in a 2-0 loss to the Nationals before an announced crowd of 20,370 at Camden Yards that completed a sweep of the Beltway Series.
The Orioles have lost five in a row and 11 of 15, and are 17-39. They’ve scored eight runs in the last six games and 23 in the last 11, and have been held to three runs or fewer in 11 of the last 12. Tonight marked the sixth time they’ve been shut out, including twice in the series.
The Nationals are 32-22 and have won 10 straight road games to set a team record.
Craig Gentry led off the ninth with a pinch-hit single off Sean Doolittle and the Nats misplayed Adam Jones’ fly ball down the right field line for a gift single. But Gentry broke early for third base and was tagged out in a rundown with Manny Machado at the plate, and the next two batters were retired.
It just keeps getting worse.
Hess allowed one run and four hits in six innings, with one walk and two strikeouts, and is 2-2 with a 3.47 ERA in four major league starts. He’s going to keep getting the ball. There’s no reason to send him down, whether due to his performance or where the Orioles are headed this season.
The Nationals drove up Hess’ pitch count to 68 through three innings, but he needed only seven, 13 and nine in the next three frames to finish at 97, his highest total in the majors. He has three quality starts since leaving Triple-A.
Miguel Castro gave up a run in the seventh on a walk, single and Juan Soto’s two-out hit. Not that Scherzer needed more of a cushion. A napkin would do just fine.
Scherzer retired 19 of the first 20 batters, with Chris Davis lining a single into left field with two outs in the second inning. Machado doubled into the right field corner with one out in the seventh, making him 2-for-25 lifetime against Scherzer. Mark Trumbo walked with two outs, but Davis struck out.
Scherzer retired the side in order in the eighth, getting a called third strike on Joey Rickard and leaving to an ovation from Nats fans sitting behind the visiting dugout.
The latest game of lineup roulette included Jace Peterson as the leadoff hitter for the first time as an Oriole and the 97th in his career. Manager Buck Showalter has used seven leadoff hitters this season.
Trey Mancini has the most starts atop the order with 43, but he began the night in a 6-for-53 slump that lowered his average to .235. He moved down to seventh for the first time this season after making his first appearance in the sixth slot in Monday night’s series opener and pinch-hitting last night.
Davis was back down to sixth after appearing in the cleanup spot last night and going 0-for-4 with two more strikeouts. His single tonight erased all the no-hitter thoughts hovering over the ballpark.
He was the only baserunner for a long, long time.
Scherzer struck out 12 batters, the eighth time this season he reached double figures and the 72nd in his career.
The bench is down to three players with Danny Valencia on paternity leave. The lineup included players batting .153, .178, .217, .235 and .236. The reserves were hitting .120, .190 and .214.
The lineup didn’t require any scratches tonight, but Showalter had to check on someone during batting practice before knowing that it would remain the same.
“Things that nobody really knows about,” Showalter said.
Making out the lineup “is a job that you take very seriously and you pour over it,” he added. “I get a lot of input from different guys on the coaching staff, trainers.”
Knowing that Valencia might have to join his wife for the birth of their first baby led Showalter to bat him seventh last night instead of moving him higher in the order. Rickard took Valencia’s spot and avoided the heart of the order. The Orioles were held to two runs and lost again.
“We’ve got some people, we haven’t taken care of some of the opportunities, taken advantage of some of the opportunities they’ve gotten,” Showalter said. “We knew (injuries) were going to happen You don’t like the volume of them.
“At some point we’re going to get Darren (O’Day), we’re going to get Zach (Britton), we’re going to get Beck (Tim Beckham). Just like we got Trum back. So I don’t see this as unique. It’s part of the job description when you go into it. You know there’s a good chance you’re going to get challenged like that with some injuries and what have you.
“Some of our issues have been self-inflicted. We just haven’t performed as well as we need to.”
Scherzer brought the pain tonight, baffling the Orioles with a mix of fastballs, sliders and changeups. He had seven strikeouts and 17 swings and misses through four innings. Machado chased a 97 mph fastball up and in to end the first. Scherzer struck out the side in the third.
Trumbo struck out on a slider to open the fifth and Scherzer continued to cruise along as if throwing a batting practice session. He had 22 swinging strikes after the inning on 74 pitches, one short of his season high, and blew past it with his 29th fanning Davis to end the seventh.
Peterson, owner of the .178 average, worked Scherzer for 10 pitches before flying out to center field in the first inning. Scherzer needed nine more to retire the side in order.
Hess would have needed to throw a shutout just to get a no-decision. Scherzer was too good again. The offense was on mute again.
Note: Britton allowed an infield hit and struck out three batters tonight in the fifth inning while pitching for Single-A Frederick. He threw 17 pitches, 11 for strikes.
Update: Gentry wasn’t available after the game.
Showalter on Gentry play: “Just trying to steal third. I think it’s pretty obvious, right? He got one of our four hits to lead off the inning off a very good pitcher. Made, I thought, a very good baserunning play to get to second there. A lot of people get forced at second base. He saw they were having some problems there and got off far enough to get to second base.
“Obviously, there’s a lot more to the game than that, but I understand. We didn’t do much offensively for eight innings, either. Of course, it’s Scherzer. Really good tonight. I was impressed with Hess, too. Six innings, was one of his best. I was trying to get him out of there with a good outing under his belt and we’re sitting there in the sixth inning going hitter to hitter with him.
“That was good to see a lineup see him two or three times around and still be effective. He’s had some weapons other than the fastball. Had a lot of good pitches. He got a changeup up 3-2 that the right fielder hit. And then we got a move one way and hit it the other way for the second run. We just didn’t score any runs again.”
Showalter on what Gentry had to gain by running: “It is if you make it. We all know that it’s a play that ... We haven’t done a whole lot offensively. I’m not going to throw Craig under the bus. He did some things to get us to that point. The guy’s 1.6-1.7 to the plate, he inside-moved him and picked the right time to do it. It didn’t work out.
“Nobody tries to do more to help this team than Craig Gentry every day. I applaud him for one of the few base hits we had and a good baserunning play. That’s one that doesn’t look good because of the results and the chance we had there. But we still had two more outs after that, too.”
Showalter on what else can be done with offense: “Dan (Duquette) and I talked today. He’s busy with the draft and got a lot of things going on in the general manager’s world. But we talked about some things today and will continue to look at them. But I’m more focused on what we have here and making it get back to what it’s capable of. If those things come about, Dan and I talk about how we feel about where we are and what can be done. But I try to focus on the people that are here and making them as good as they can be.”
Showalter on Hess: “Each one, it seems like he settled in, but he hasn’t lose his aggressiveness and his confidence. I think he’s going to be one of those guys, kind of, regardless of what the results are in one game, he’s not going to let it kind of carry over. He’s taken advantage of every opportunity he gets. He wasn’t carrying quite the fastball that he’s had in the past outings and that was good to see him survive and give us a real good chance to win a game if we can push some runs across. But I’m sure he knew coming in he was going to have a tough task with the pitcher for them and our challenge scoring runs right now, but he did everything he could do.
“That was impressive. I really was impressed with the sixth inning. Still continued to use the changeup, take some of the sting out of the bat. Enough fastball. He’s had better command of the fastball his last couple of outings. That’s been key for him.”
Showalter on whether Scherzer was that dominating: “Ah, yes. He’s really good. You can make a case for him being as good ... I don’t know, I don’t look at it a whole lot. Is anybody having a better year than him as a starter in baseball? He brings the whole package.
“I thought Pete had a great at-bat to lead off the game, grinded through it. ... He’s not going to have a whole lot of two-pitch at-bats, because it’s not a lot of stuff you see put in play. He doesn’t lose anything as the game goes on. I mean, I don’t think anybody doubts that he physically could have pitched the ninth inning, but ...
“You don’t like that it’s against you, but that’s what top pitchers in the game do. You see their whole repertoire. And this guy has a changeup, plus breaking ball and fastball, really four quadrants. He elevates it. He reads hitters’ swings well, he remembers at-bats. What a guy did last time, you’ll see adjustments made at-bat to at-bat.”
Showalter on pitching: “I told you coming out of camp, I thought we were going to settle in and have a good rotation. And when we get Zach and Darren (O’Day) back. Zach had a good outing tonight. That was great to see.
“We’ve just got to figure out a way for our offense to get some type of consistency, because it’s been a challenge for us. But the pitching, I still think that when it’s all said and done our rotation is going to give us a chance to win more times than not. And we’ve got a lot of good young pitchers coming, too. I’m excited about the seasons they’re having down below.”
Hess on the last month: “Yeah, I think that the confidence is definitely growing. I think that with every start I get a little bit smarter, I guess, about what I need to do to have success and how to go about my business on an everyday basis. So, yeah, I think there’s definitely progression with that and I’m excited that progression is coming to where it is right now.”