DENVER - As the Orioles made the final out tonight in the top of the first inning and players jogged onto the field, the eight relievers vacated the dugout and began the long walk to the bullpen in center field. Outfielder Keon Broxton fist-bumped each one, a friendly gesture rather than the taking of relief inventory.
A casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that players are checking on who’s available to pitch. Who’s running on fumes. Who could use an Uber.
Pity the rookie toting the backpack filled with candy.
Manager Brandon Hyde wanted to withhold Dan Straily until today after the right-hander threw 91 pitches on Wednesday. He wasn’t going to use Mychal Givens or Paul Fry and there were others with limited or no availability.
The simplicity of his plan seemed to hinge on his starter. Andrew Cashner had completed six innings in four of his last five outings. Get deep tonight and Hyde could relax. Sort of the game within the game.
Hyde removed Cashner after five innings, the hook coming with the veteran at 91 pitches and working his way through the order a third time. A short bullpen didn’t deter him. It would need to cover four frames.
Renato Núñez homered for the fourth consecutive game, Jonathan Villar broke a tie with a three-run shot, Josh Lucas offered up three scoreless innings and the Orioles held on to defeat the Rockies 9-6 at Coors Field.
The losing streak ends at seven games, with the Orioles improving to 16-36 overall and 10-17 on the road. They’ll try Sunday to win their first series since April 22-24 against the White Sox at Camden Yards.
Miguel Castro struck out the first two batters he faced in the sixth and Chris Iannetta homered to right field on a 99.5 mph fastball to reduce the lead to 7-6. All of the scoring at that point had come with two outs. Lucas stranded a runner in the seventh and eighth and retired the side in order in the ninth for his first career save.
The Orioles loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh against Seunghwawn Oh. Broxton struck out, but Stevie Wilkerson greeted Jake McGee with an RBI single. Pedro Severino scored with two outs on pinch-hitter Dwight Smith Jr.’s single up the middle for a 9-6 lead.
Wilkerson made a wide turn at third, thinking the ball would reach center, and was out trying to scamper back.
Núñez’s streak is the longest for the Orioles since Jonathan Schoop homered in five straight games July 22-27, 2018. Núñez has gone deep in five of his last six, and tonight’s shot, measured by Statcast at 436 feet with an exit velocity of 108 mph, gave the Orioles a 3-1 lead against left-hander Kyle Freeland.
It was fleeting. Nolan Arenado hit a three-run shot with two outs in the bottom of the third for his 200th career home run, turning on a 95 mph fastball up and inside on his hands. Arenado homered twice last night and had five RBIs tonight.
The Rockies’ lead also had a short shelf life. Hanser Alberto singled with two outs in the fourth to score Richie Martin and tie the game, and Villar followed with his 411-footer to give the Orioles a 7-4 lead and leave him a triple shy of the cycle.
The Orioles had seven runs and 10 hits after four innings. It still felt like much more would be needed.
Arenado already had an RBI double in the first inning, and his run-scoring single in the fifth also left him a triple short of the cycle. The hit reduced the lead to 7-5. Cashner headed back to the dugout at 91 pitches and didn’t return, his streak of quality starts ending at three.
Cashner allowed five runs and eight hits with no walks and five strikeouts.
The Orioles led 2-0 in the first inning on back-to-back two-out singles into left field by Núñez and Severino after Villar doubled. Núñez hustled to second base on Raimel Tapia’s throw toward the plate, as Severino would do on his single.
Broxton, in his second game with the Orioles, also singled to left field, but Severino held at third and was stranded.
Severino had four hits and Núñez finished with three in the middle of the order.
Hyde on taking out Cashner: “Fatigue. Battling, didn’t have his best stuff tonight. I thought without his best stuff pitched great in a tough place to pitch against a good lineup and gave us everything he had for five innings. This is a tough place to keep your stamina as you get deeper into the game. He got tired after the fifth.
“I wanted him to go back out for the sixth, knowing our bullpen situation. He would have done it, but I could tell it was the right thing to do to get him out of the game.”
Hyde on knowing he’d use Castro and Lucas: “Castro and Lucas were the guys tonight, depending on where we were in the order. Where they were in the order was how I was going to use them. (Richard) Bleier was obviously available also. That was being our only lefty, and we had a couple of emergency guys if things got into extra innings or that sort, but we needed Castro and Lucas to give us some innings.
“Castro was going to go back out, too, but we had a rally going, D-Smith with a big RBI hit to extend the lead, so somehow we pieced it together.”
Hyde on what last 20 minutes were like: “There was some celebration coming on after the game, no doubt about it. I want the guys to enjoy every win because it’s so hard to do. It’s not easy to win in the big leagues, period, so you can enjoy it.”
Cashner on getting the win: “I think the biggest thing is how we came out swinging the bats. I’ve never really pitched great here, glad it’s over with. But as long as you can give up less runs than the other guy, that’s how you win here. It’s really tough to pitch here, but I thought we swung the bats really well, made some big plays defensively.
“I think the biggest thing tonight was Josh Lucas and how he did coming out of the bullpen. Three innings, especially with the save. That’s his first save in the big leagues. That was a really nice job by him.”
Cashner on watching bullpen over last four innings: “It was really cool. I was trying to go more. I was just gassed. I mean, running the bases, altitude, everything. For the bullpen to pick up four innings and give up one run is huge for us, especially with the kind of skid we’ve been on. Maybe give us some momentum going forward.”
Cashner on whether he thought tack-on runs would be enough: “Man, here in Colorado there’s never enough runs. I don’t care if you have 15 runs on the board. I’ve seen them score nine runs here with two outs before, so there’s never enough runs in this ballpark.”
Cashner on what Lucas did being special: “No doubt, especially with that lineup. That’s a really balanced lineup. With them missing (Charlie) Blackmon right now, I think that’s kind of the equalizer for their lineup, but have a lot of guys who are good hitters over there. I thought he spotted his fastball well, and his slider was really good.”
Lucas on getting his first save: “It feels good to get a first save, but just trying to pound the zone like always, trying to give the guys a rest. They’ve been taxed heavily this last week, so just trying to eat up some innings and throw strikes.”
Lucas on if it’s more satisfying here: “Yeah, it’s hard to pitch here, but you can’t make excuses for the environment. You’ve got to just go out and throw, and whatever happens happens.”
Lucas on losing streak ending: “It’s hard to win in the big leagues. Everyone’s here for a reason. Everyone’s good. I don’t put too much into what I did. These guys have been here a lot more than I have. I’m just trying to go out there and set my footprint in the game and throw strikes.”