A couple of strategies have worked for the Orioles in the season’s first two games.
Get a deep start from ace John Means, hand the ball to a setup man and the closer of the day, and head back to the team hotel.
Call upon a bulk reliever working behind a starter who gets into the fourth or fifth inning, hand the ball to a setup man and the closer of the day, and head back to the team hotel.
That’s how the Orioles have gone 2-0 and can try to complete the sweep later today at Fenway Park. That’s how they’ve built their first season-opening winning streak since 2017.
(Just avoid that ugly September collapse.)
Tanner Scott worked a scoreless eighth inning on Friday, though he walked two batters, and César Valdez celebrated his first opening day in the majors by recording the save. Newcomer Adam Plutko replaced Matt Harvey yesterday, with a couple of runners on base and two outs in the fifth, and shut out the Red Sox over 2 1/3 innings, Dillon Tate retired the side in order in the eighth and Valdez walked a tightrope to another save.
A hit batter and walk became two stranded runners. The dead fish still missing bats, though it would have been more marketable for Brian Bass.
Paul Fry was warming in the eighth, but manager Brandon Hyde trusted that Valdez could go back-to-back. Someone else will have to close today if the situation calls for it.
The bullpen has registered 6 1/3 scoreless innings. The one-and-done relievers are important, but so, too, are the guys who must provide coverage in a season that threatens to tax a pitching staff.
“I am what I am,” Plutko said. “I’ll bring what I can to the table, I’ll try to help us win as many ballgames as we possibly can. Obviously, having a great defense, a couple great plays. Trey (Mancini) at first, that ball was spinning like a top, Maikel (Franco) with a huge, huge backhand stop right when I came in the game. All that goes a long way in throwing innings.
“I’m just going to string outs together. So far we’ve gotten two unbelievable starts from our starting pitching. When you kind of do that, everything starts to fall in line and the bullpen can do what they do.”
Plutko needs to be stretched out because he didn’t exceed two innings in Indians camp. The Orioles figured it would be a simple task after trading for him.
“I’ll go until skipper takes me out of the game,” Plutko said. “If that’s seven innings, then that’s great, I’d love to do that. But until he takes the ball from me, I’ll figure a way to get an out.”
In whatever assignment is given to him.
“I told Hyder when I got here, I’ve started every five days, I’ve started on less than 24 hours and I’ve been sitting in the dugout, told that I wasn’t doing anything as a starter, and they came and tapped on my shoulder and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to use you to get a couple outs,’” Plutko said. “So roles are great. I think that’s an ideal world, but we’re all here, we all want to win ballgames and we’re all ready to get outs.
“Valdy at the backend isn’t a backend reliever by any stretch of the imagination, but, hey, he’s stringing outs together and that’s all that matters.”
The bullpen will undergo a change before the next series with Shawn Armstrong activated from the paternity list. An optionable piece could be headed to the alternate camp site.
“I’m not even there yet,” Hyde said. “We’ll make a decision when Shawn gets back. I’m sure we have some ideas, but right now we’ll see how it goes tomorrow.”
* Pedro Severino wasn’t beaten down by his 1-for-22 start in spring training.
The bat that heated up later in camp is smoking at the start of the regular season. He’s gone 2-for-4 with a run scored in both games from the bottom of the order.
The Red Sox postgame notes included his nugget:
Severino is just the third Orioles catcher with consecutive multi-hit games to begin a season. Francisco Peña did it in 2016 and Ramón Hernández in 2006.
Severino also is the first Orioles player to begin a season with consecutive multi-hit games since infielder Tim Beckham in 2018.
* The Braves signed second baseman Yolmer Sánchez to a minor league deal. He’s found a new home.
Sánchez was designated for assignment and granted his release after the Orioles acquired Plutko and needed to make room on the 40-man roster. He didn’t hit in spring training after agreeing to a $1 million deal to avoid arbitration, going 8-for-39 (.205) with a .484 OPS, and the former Gold Glove winner struggled in the field.
There was little interest in re-signing him to a new deal.
The Orioles remain open to acquiring a second baseman, but for now seem content with Rio Ruiz handling the position - at least against right-handers - and having Pat Valaika and Ramón Urías in reserve.
* White Sox catcher Yermín Mercedes plays in his second major league game Friday and becomes the first player in the modern era to go 5-for-5 in his first career start. He begins last night’s game 2-for-2 and becomes the second player in the expansion era to start a season with seven consecutive hits. Then he has an RBI double in his next at-bat to become the first in the modern era with eight in a row.
My first reaction is, “Wait, isn’t that ...?”
Yes, the former Orioles minor leaguer who won a South Atlantic League batting title with Single-A Delmarva in 2016 by posting a .353 average in 91 games. Who caught Means’ seven-inning no-hitter in the first game of a July 31, 2015 doubleheader.
Who kept frustrating the organization with his poor conditioning and work behind the plate, and some really bad decisions off the field.
One ugly incident with Delmarva was followed by a promotion to high Single-A Frederick on Aug. 1, 2016 after the Orioles traded catcher Jonah Heim to the Rays for Steve Pearce. A reward that angered some people in the organization.
So did his spring training invite the following year. Conflicting signals sent to the young prospect.
The Orioles placed Mercedes on Frederick’s suspended list on Sept. 2, 2017 after he again reported late to the ballpark and walked out on the club after meeting with manager Keith Bodie. The White Sox selected him in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft, where the Orioles also lost pitchers Mitch Horecek and Brandon Barker, infielders Brallan Perez and Angelo Mora, and outfielder Jay Gonzalez.
No one questioned Mercedes’ offensive skills. The Nationals released him in the summer of 2013, the Orioles signed him out of independent ball in September 2014 and he slashed .357/.362/.482 in 18 games in the Dominican Winter League the following year, posting a .452 average in 31 at-bats versus left-handed pitching.
Next came his SAL batting title, the same year that he was named a mid-season and postseason All-Star, and the controversies that necessitated a change of scenery. I don’t recall anyone lamenting his selection by the White Sox.
Mercedes singled in his initial at-bat Thursday, had a two-run single in the fourth inning, singled in the sixth and eighth innings and delivered a two-run double in the ninth.
“I just want to cry every time I see I’m in the majors right now,” Mercedes said in his Zoom call. “It’s a long time. I’ve got a big history, so it’s about time, but it’s hard for me because just looking around and I’m like, ‘It’s real. I’m here.’ “
Sounds like Mercedes has matured. He exceeded second-chance status with the Orioles, but maybe is in the right spot at the right time in his life.