PHOENIX - John Means retired the first five batters today, getting strikeouts with his changeup and curveball. But something wasn’t right. He wasn’t particularly sharp and the Diamondbacks were chipping away at him.
Means came tumbling down in the fourth, turning in his shortest start since his rotation debut back on April 9.
Nine batters came to the plate in the inning, Carson Kelly hit a three-run homer and the Orioles lost 5-2 at Chase Field.
Gabriel Ynoa stranded two inherited runners, leaving Means charged with three runs and six hits in 3 1/3 innings. The rookie walked three batters, threw a wild pitch and logged 95 pitches.
The Orioles loaded the bases in the seventh and eighth innings and put two men on base with no outs in the ninth without scoring.
“Those guys did a nice job making pitches,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “We didn’t make enough contact late in the game with runners on base. Our ABs there late, we had them on the ropes there a few times, and we just didn’t do a good job putting the ball in play.”
A different outcome would have enabled the Orioles to win four of their last seven series and claim back-to-back for the first time since the beginning of the season in New York and Toronto.
They led 1-0 after Santander’s shot to left-center field, but Clarke held them to two runs and four hits in six innings. Clarke hadn’t completed four innings in three of his last four starts and four of six.
Means turned in his shortest start since working three innings on April 9 against the Athletics, when the Orioles were stretching him out.
“I felt good in the beginning and then that fourth inning I was overthrowing pitches,” he said. “I got out of my motion. There was a lot that went wrong. So, I’ll come back after that one and work on some things and constantly develop that motion.
“It’s tough. You want to go six, seven innings every outing and you want to save the bullpen. And I just couldn’t get it done.”
Means said he was fine physically.
“I didn’t feel any different,” he said. “Just kind of one of those things, you get out of it and you can’t get back in.”
The Diamondbacks wasted two-out singles by Wilmer Flores and Nick Ahmed in the third and a two-out single by Ketel Marte and walk to Eduardo Escobar in the fourth. The tightrope beneath Means’ feet was bound to snap.
Adam Jones, 0-for-4 last night, led off the fifth with a single and Ahmed walked with one out. Kelly launched a changeup into the left field seats for a 3-1 lead.
Clarke singled, Tim Locastro walked and Hyde came out of the dugout.
Means has allowed 11 runs and 18 hits in 15 1/3 innings since the All-Star break, with five walks and five home runs.
“I thought he was good early and I just feel like he lost a little bit,” Hyde said. “I thought the AB to the pitcher, I felt that he kind of changed after that at-bat. I just thought he wasn’t as crisp as he normally is. He didn’t has as good of command as he normally had.
“He’s been so good for us all year. he’s going to have tough games over the course of the season. We don’t expect him to give up two runs a game the entire year, but his pitch count obviously was driven up really high early in the game just because we didn’t have the command he normally has as well as all the foul balls.”
Mancini’s ball in the sixth traveled 435 feet with an exit velocity of 107 mph per Statcast. Santander followed with a double, 108.5 mph off the bat, that left him with a .303 average and .869 OPS. But Renato Núñez struck out for the second time.
Marte homered off Richard Bleier in the bottom half, standing at the plate and admiring all 412 feet of it, for a 4-2 lead. He’s the first player in franchise history with 10 or more home runs from both sides of the plate.
The Orioles tried to rally in the seventh against Yoshihisa Hirano. Dwight Smith Jr. led off with a single and Pedro Severino walked. Chris Davis struck out for the seventh time in eight at-bats in the series, Richie Martin struck out, pinch-hitter Stevie Wilkerson reached on an infield hit to load the bases and Jonathan Villar bounced to the mound.
Villar went 0-for-15 in Arizona.
“He hit that homer against the Red Sox the day before we got here,” Hyde said. “I thought they pitched him well, to be honest with you. Pounded balls in. He’s playing hard.
“Jonny battles and Jonny competes and just missed that one there in the ninth inning. It was a good swing, just got in on him a little bit. I think he’ll be fine.”
Davis came to the plate again with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth after Archie Bradley walked Núñez, Smith singled to make him 7-for-16 in the last five games and Severino was hit on the hand/wrist. Davis fell behind 0-2, ran the count to 2-2 and struck out looking at a knuckle-curve.
Nine at-bats in the series and eight strikeouts.
“You’ve got to make an adjustment,” Hyde said. “You’ve got to put the ball in play.”
“I mean, I’m not expecting guys to come through all the time,” Hyde said. “I just ... we’re just looking for guys to take good at-bats. I don’t know. It’s just one of those games where we put the pressure on them and let them off the hook.
“We have to do a nice job of working some at-bats and get runners on base, and you have to be able to put pressure on defense. There are appropriate strikeouts, and then there’s times when you need contact. We just didn’t do that enough tonight.”
The Diamondbacks stranded 14 runners, but they didn’t need any more offense after the fourth.
“It’s frustrating,” Santander said, “but I think overall the team competed all the way to the end. Unfortunately we couldn’t get it, but tomorrow’s going to be another day.”
Update: The Orioles made another roster move, optioning third baseman Rio Ruiz to Triple-A Norfolk. He would have been leaving the team soon as his wife is expecting the birth of their first child.
A corresponding move will be announced Thursday in Anaheim.
The Orioles have two openings on their 40-man roster.
Ruiz is 11-for-38 with one home run this month, making 10 starts. He struck out today as a pinch-hitter.
Ruiz has been with the club for the entire season. He’s batting .238 with a .641 OPS.
Núñez and Alberto can replace him at third base, though the corresponding move might factor into the equation.