If the Orioles can’t jump back into playoff contention over the last two weeks of the season, they certainly can find other ways to make good use of these games.
Get Austin Hays back in the major league flow after another freakish injury, whether he’s starting in an outfield corner or in center. Learn whether Cedric Mullins can be more than a fourth outfielder and whether DJ Stewart can avoid a power outage. Reintroduce Ryan Mountcastle to first base, the third of his four positions as a professional. Try to figure out whether Jorge López is a starter or potential long reliever and swingman in 2021.
Mountcastle was the designated hitter tonight, but Hays made his first career appearance in left. Mullins stayed in center and Stewart remained in right. López was given the ball and the added responsibility of becoming a stopper.
All of it worked. In spectacular fashion.
A nine-run third inning featured back-to-back homers by Stewart and Mountcastle, and José Iglesias’ first of the season. Iglesias had four hits and four RBIs by the fifth, Stewart and Mountcastle combined for seven RBIs, López carried a shutout into the sixth and the Orioles snapped a five-game losing streak with a 14-1 victory over the Braves to begin the final homestand of the season.
The Orioles sent 12 batters to the plate in the third and went off after being held to three runs in 33 innings in New York. A three-run homer from Stewart gave him seven in nine games. Mountcastle followed his RBI single in the first inning with a shot over the center field fence for his fifth homer, and Iglesias punctuated the inning with a three-run shot.
Three more runs scored in the fifth and the Orioles improved to 21-26 overall and 11-15 at home.
They were on such a roll, Pat Valaika replaced Iglesias and led off the seventh with a home run on a ball that bounced off the glove of former Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis.
There are no real breaks for the Orioles as they tried to apply the brakes on a skid. Leave the Bronx and play the team that’s leading the National League East. The team that was averaging eight runs a game this month upon arriving in Baltimore.
The turbulence from regional travel this season can be pretty intense.
So can a team believing that the four-game sweep against the Yankees lit a fire under them.
López retired the first eight batters before Ozzie Albies singled in the third inning. He became the first Oriole to complete seven innings this season, allowing one run and five hits and throwing 93 pitches.
Touki Toussaint was recalled this morning to start for the Braves and trouble came to him immediately with singles by Mullins and Iglesias in the first inning. Stewart struck out, but Mountcastle lined a slider into left field to score Mullins for a 1-0 lead.
Proving again that he doesn’t just feast on fastballs, Mountcastle had his 16th RBI in 22 games. And he wasn’t done.
Renato Núñez reached on a grounder to short, but Iglesias assumed that the ball made it to the outfield and kept motoring until tagged in a rundown between third and home. Bad for a rally, bad for a sore quadriceps muscle.
The Orioles sent Toussaint to the showers after 70 pitches in 2 2/3 innings. Mullins walked and stole second base, Iglesias reached on an infield hit and Stewart crushed a curveball. Mountcastle swung through a curveball and connected on a slider for a 5-0 lead.
Two walks and an error loaded the bases and brought reliever Luke Jackson into the game. Mullins greeted him with a two-run single, the third time he reached base in three innings, and Iglesias found the empty seats in left field.
The Orioles scored nine runs in an inning for the first time since April 15, 2016 against the Rangers, when they tallied nine in the seventh. Mark Trumbo homered twice.
Hays reached on an error, singled twice and walked in his return. He scored in the fifth on Iglesias’ single, Andrew Velazquez came home on Stewart’s infield hit and Mountcastle singled to left field to give the Orioles’ a season-high 13 runs.
The top four hitters in the order - Mullins, Iglesias, Stewart and Mountcastle - were 11-for-15 with three home runs and 13 RBIs through the fifth.
Freddie Freeman led off the sixth with a home run off López, who also gave up a hit and got a double play to keep his quality start in play.
A 1-2-3 seventh led to a bunch of congratulatory handshakes in the dugout. López earned them. Just as he earned more starts down the stretch.
Manager Brandon Hyde on offense: “I thought our guys just took really good at-bats tonight. I thought we did a nice job of getting in hitters’ counts, waiting him out a little bit. Put some really good swings on balls and driving them. With DJ and Ryan and the game that Iggy had, just really pleased with our at-bats and scoring a bunch of runs early, which makes it easy on our pitching staff and easy on Jorgie López.”
Hyde on Chris Davis: “His knee kind of flared up after that game in New York and so we gave it some time, trying to see how he responded and ultimately we put him on the IL.”
López on his start: “It’s been really good having that sinker. I’ve been taking advantage of pounding the zone. It’s really tough when you get a big lead like that, come back. I just keep throwing that for a strike and tried to get the tempo as good as I can. The guys made really good plays, they have my back. It was really fun to watch. We had a little bit of everything, as good as we were going. I was mixing the pitches, down and away with my two-seam, going in with my two-seam again, have that curveball, really good changeup. Everything was working really good.”
López on how he’s done so far: “This is my opportunity - every single start. I take it like that. I’ve been the last couple years back and forth in the rotation, so just trying to be better in every outing I can.”
Iglesias on bouncing back from Yankees series: “It was very tough. We had a tough series in New York, but we were able leave it in the past. There’s nothing we can do about it right now. We just turn the page and be competitive and tonight the team showed a great energy all around and we got the W.”