Pedro Severino was the designated hitter on Saturday and behind the plate yesterday, also looking lost during the times that he stepped up to it.
Could two players bust out of two funks on the same afternoon?
The Orioles settled for a split, which enabled them to defeat the Rays 2-1 and avoid a sweep in the final home game at Camden Yards.
John Means earned the bulk of the attention and credit due to his 12-strikeout start, the third in a row with only one run allowed. His ERA is dissolving like an Alka Seltzer tablet. But he already had slithered out of the clutches of his slump.
He swung at the first pitch yesterday from Ryan Yarbrough and dumped a single into center, the ball barely able to clear the drawn-in infield.
It must have felt like a screaming line drive to Núñez, who accounted for the only Orioles runs.
Núñez couldn’t enjoy the moment until he was certain that it counted. He spoke later in a Zoom conference call about his bat clipping Rays catcher Mike Zunino on the backswing.
“I was thinking the umpire (Tripp Gibson), that he called that I hit the guy on the mask with my swing, so I don’t even know what was going on,” Núñez said. “I start running and then I see the ball, that it went into center field. But it was great, man. I get to drive those two runs in and it was enough to beat them today.”
The Orioles collected three hits in the first inning. They didn’t get another until Núñez lined a single into left field in the sixth, giving him a third multi-hit game this month.
“All of your best hitters aren’t necessarily good at everything, but they may be great at one or two things and they’re very consistent in their approach with staying with the one or two things that they’re really, really good at. And generally speaking, what that comes down to is what they’re swinging at,” hitting coach Don Long said during Saturday’s Zoom conference call.
“When you look at Noonie, when he’s attacking the part of the zone that he’s good at, that’s when he’s successful. When he chases the end result, it shows up in what he swings at. So if I’m trying to swing at a right-handed slider below the zone and off the plate away and I’m swinging at that and I’m putting that ball in play, I’m not going to hit that ball hard. Or if I’m swinging at it and missing it or fouling it off, now I’m flipping the count in the pitcher’s favor. So you get less favorable counts, you put more balls in play on pitches that aren’t meant to be hit hard and you’re really getting away from your strength.
“He’s played in the big leagues, obviously, for the last couple years, but there’s still some inexperience in terms of really being stubborn and determined about what he’s good at and just sticking with that.”
Severino came up after the second Núñez single and drew a walk, his only chance to avoid the sharp turn back to the dugout. He lined to third base and flied out in his other at-bats.
Standing in the on-deck circle in the eighth inning, Severino watched Núñez pop up for the final out.
Severino slashed .313/.382/.463 with 18 RBIs in 90 plate appearances last month. He was going to receive votes for Most Valuable Oriole. But he was batting .191/.269/.255 with no RBIs in 52 plate appearances in September heading into yesterday’s game.
Hitting behind Núñez yesterday, Severino made hard contact in the first inning. Rays third baseman Yoshi Tsutsugo came up with a backhanded grab near the line and Severino headed back to the bench with bat in hand and a look of disgust on his face.
The average dropped to .267 with a .761 OPS in 45 games as the Orioles dressed and left the ballpark for the last time.
“I just see an undisciplined approach a little bit this month,” manager Brandon Hyde said yesterday morning. “A guy for me who’s chasing hits. And I think we have a lot of guys who are doing that right now.
“End of the year, you see numbers falling and you’re trying to chase hits instead of just taking good at-bats. And we’ve got to more like that as a club.”