In a mathematical technicality, the Orioles remain in the pennant race as they close out the final homestand of the season. The numbers don’t shove them to the curb.
They also had a shot at finishing .500, but only by winning their last eight games.
The final record won’t push along the rebuild. The development and impact of Ryan Mountcastle will make a real difference. His presence in the middle of the order.
What the young starters do will make a real difference. The young arms in the back end of the bullpen. The maturing outfielders. A certain first-overall draft pick who’s going to be camped behind the plate.
But the wins are nice, too.
They just haven’t been around much lately.
Still trying to break even in 2020, the Orioles fell behind in the fifth inning on Randy Arozarena’s two-run homer off Jorge López and lost to the Rays 3-1 at Camden Yards, where the first-pitch temperature was 63 degrees.
The Orioles are 22-31 and approaching their final home game. A road trip to Boston and Buffalo next week separates them from the finish line.
The season appeared to be over for shortstop José Iglesias, who was drilled on the back of the left hand by a 93 mph fastball from Charlie Morton in the second inning. Iglesias, who doubled in the first, dropped to one knee and covered his face as head athletic trainer Brian Ebel ran onto the field.
Iglesias pounded his fist into the grass before getting back to this feet and walking off the field. Pat Valaika pinch-ran for him.
The Orioles optioned utility player Andrew Velazquez to the alternate camp site earlier in the day. Maybe he won’t need to return. The Orioles announced Iglesias’ injury as a left wrist contusion.
Iglesias raised his average to .377 with 15 doubles and a .921 OPS. He hit his first home run on Monday and has drawn only three walks in 138 plate appearances.
López walked Yoshi Tsutsugo with one out in the fifth and Arozarena pounced on a 95 mph fastball for a 3-1 lead. López allowed three runs and eight hits in six innings, with one walk, five strikeouts and two costly homers.
Tonight marked the ninth time that an Orioles starter completed six innings.
Mountcastle batted cleanup again tonight and went 2-for-4 to raise his average at .344 with a .956 OPS. His single to right field in the first inning loaded the bases with one out. Pedro Severino struck out, but Morton hit Chance Sisco to force in a run.
The Orioles worked Morton for 33 pitches in the inning.
Tsutsugo led off the third inning with a game-tying home run off López, the ball landing on the flag court in right field.
A leadoff single by Mountcastle in the eighth was wasted, but he demonstrated his knack for hitting again by taking a slider to right-center field.
Before stepping onto the field tonight, Mountcastle ranked first among American League rookies with a minimum of 80 plate appearances in on-base percentage (.400) and OPS (.954), second in batting average (.337) and slugging percentage (.573), tied for third in multi-hit games (10), tied for fourth in RBIs (21), fifth in hits (31) and tied for seventh in home runs.
Mountcastle leads the club in RBIs since arriving on Aug. 21. He’s reached base safely in 21 of his 27 starts. He’s 10-for-25 with runners in scoring position and 4-for-10 with RISP and two outs.
There hasn’t been an instance where Mountcastle came across as overmatched. And he’s striking when appearing at a disadvantage.
Mountcastle is 10-for-12 with two home runs in 0-1 counts, including tonight’s single in the first, and 5-for-15 with a double and home run in a 2-2 count. He’s 12-for-30 with two doubles and a home run when batting with two outs.
Another walk Friday night raised Mountcastle’s total to 10. He drew 24 in 553 plate appearances with Triple-A Norfolk last summer.
“I had only seen him a little bit in spring training and then certainly talked to people about him,” hitting coach Don Long said earlier today in a Zoom conference call with the media. “The guys in development really like him, really thought he was going to be an impact hitter. What I’ve really liked about him is he’s got a good presence in the box. He’s certainly very talented. Has the ability to drive the ball.
“I’ve been really impressed overall with his two-strike approach and the way that he’s handled himself against really good pitching, and I think as he gains more experience ... He’s facing so many people for the very first time and that’s a challenge in and of itself. And then having the ability to put together good at-bats. I think he’s chasing less, certainly, than his numbers in Triple-A last year and I think that will continue to improve, like I said, as he gains experience and just figures out who he’s facing and he’s had the opportunity to see them before.”
Mountcastle’s arrival in the majors coincided with the first of Chris Davis’ two trips to the injured list with left knee patellar tendinitis. Davis won’t return this season, according to manager Brandon Hyde.
What advice does Long offer for Davis moving forward?
Don’t look back.
“You have to keep working and you have to keep believing,” he said. “That sounds kind of generic, but I think he’s dedicated to do that, have the right mentality to continue to work to try to improve. I think the process of hitting is always being reshaped. It’s ongoing. I think the most dangerous thing a hitter can do is look back. I think you have to continue to (ask), ‘What am I feeling now? What am I able to do now? And within what I’m able to do now physically and mentally, can I go back and have the same kind of game I had before or do I have to kind of reshape what I’m doing?’
“I think that’s the first part of the assessment for any hitter, is to be able to be reflective enough to say, ‘Is going back the right answer or is it in going forward and maybe becoming a different version of myself based on what’s available to me right now?’”
Austin Hays produced another two-hit game tonight, his fourth in seven games since coming off the injured list. He was thrown out trying to steal to end the fourth inning.
Mountcastle had a rare stumble in the clutch in the fifth, striking out with runners on first and second and one out. Severino struck out again, leaving five runners on base for the night. He doesn’t have an RBI since Aug. 30 and is 9-for-47 (.191) with 14 strikeouts this month.
The Rays collected six hits in four innings but only one run. Joey Wendle led off the fourth with a double and raced to third on DJ Stewart’s error. Kevin Kiermaier grounded to Hanser Alberto, who threw home for the out, and the game remained tied until Arozarena’s shot to right.
Alberto and Sisco teamed again in the eighth to cut down Arozarena on Wendle’s grounder. Evan Phillips tossed two scoreless innings with four strikeouts upon his return from the alternate camp site, after striking out all four batters in Game 2 of Thursday’s doubleheader.
The Orioles have been held to one run in seven of their last 10 games, upholding a reputation for streakiness that includes a 14-run outburst Monday in López’s last start.
“You look at the competition that they’re facing, you have some really good, established major league hitters who against that type of pitching aren’t necessarily looking like good, established major league hitters. So I think that’s one factor,” Long said.
“The other factor is, with a lot of our guys, they’re facing a lot of these guys for the first time, and so you can talk about what they do, you can describe the action of their pitches, you can watch all the video you want from the center field camera perspective, but until you step in the box against them, you may not know, really, what it’s going to look like. And I think with a lot of our guys, they’re in a position where they’re still trying to establish who they are at this level. And a part of that is, when you go against some of the best pitchers there are, you’re looking at that as a measuring stick for yourself. You’re trying to establish yourself based on being successful against those guys. So I think the challenge is to understand yourself as a hitter, understand what you do well and try to stay within that framework regardless of who you’re facing.
“When you’re young and you’re inexperienced and the game starts to speed up a little bit mentally, the hardest thing to do is to slow it back down, where more of an established hitter will have been there before and will have said, ‘OK, I’ve been against this guy or this type of competition before, here’s what I need to do in this situation.’ I think a lot of our guys are still learning how to do that, so I think that’s where some of the inconsistency could come from. And it’s challenging and it can be frustrating, but it’s all good stuff because time that they face him and every time that they have to figure it out and learn how to make it work, they’re one step closer to becoming that guy. And there’s no substitute for experience in that regard.”
Hyde on whether he thought Iglesias’ injury much worse: “You never know when somebody gets hit in the wrist and hand area. You hope for the best. X-rays were negative. He’ll get re-evaluated tomorrow. It’s obviously going to be really sore tomorrow.”
Hyde on what Iglesias has meant to team: “With our inexperience and our lack of major league at-bats from the majority of our lineup, he’s the one guy in our lineup who you know is going to give four quality at-bats a night, and he’s been doing that all season long. No matter who’s on the mound. His first at-bat, for me, was one of the best at-bats of the year. He’s facing Charlie Morton. Gets two strikes and continues to battle. Fouling balls off, laying off tough pitches and hits a curveball in the corner for a double. We talked about it in the dugout, that’s just a pro at-bat from a pro. And good for our guys to see that, understanding what it takes to be a major league hitter at this level. He’s been giving us great at-bats all season. To not have him in the games, it’s definitely a void.”
Hyde on López as rotation candidate: “Yeah, I think he’s putting himself in that position. I thought he threw the ball really well again. Gave up two homers. Besides that was pounding the strike zone with a really heavy 95 mph sinker. I thought he threw some good curveballs. Faced a mostly left-handed lineup and kept guys off-balance. Six strong innings from him. I think he’s been throwing the ball great and he’s definitely put himself in position to be a starting candidate next year.”
López on his performances: “I had really good motivation the last couple weeks. The young guys, it’s been really, really fun to watch. And just like really conscious to just keep it going, keep competing, executing every pitch, and it’s been awesome.”
López on whether he thinks he’ll be in rotation in 2021: “Yeah, absolutely. Since I got drafted and since I got called up it’s a big opportunity. I want to be a starter on the major league level. The most important thing is to get consistent. That was one of my toughest things. Just get consistent every outing, and that’s what I’m trying to show everybody. I just try to lock it in and execute and have a good plan and have that good energy out there always. It’s been really good.”