The starting pitcher was dealing early and a leadoff triple in the third inning led to a run and thoughts that the offense might have awakened. Deep in the heart of Texas, the Orioles were trying to bury everything that hurt them back home.
What needed to be addressed was whether Jorge López could remain upright while taking another turn through the Rangers order and if settling for one run in that inning would bring regrets.
Trying to stay in the rotation with other options available to the Orioles, López retired the first 11 batters with seven strikeouts. He didn’t surrender a hit until David Dahl’s leadoff home run in the fifth, which was followed by Nick Solak’s opposite-field shot.
Able to tap the brakes rather than succumb to a crash, López retired the next three batters and completed five innings in a 5-2 win over the Rangers at Globe Life Field.
Manager Brandon Hyde pulled López after 75 pitches, with the right-hander allowing two runs and two hits and striking out eight batters. The bullpen covered the last four, with Paul Fry dominating, and the Orioles improved to 6-8, including 5-2 on the road.
Rio Ruiz homered in the fourth inning to pad a lead created an inning earlier on Freddy Galvis’ triple and Cedric Mullins’ double. DJ Stewart hit a two-run homer in the fifth, the ball traveling 436 feet for a 5-0 lead.
A ground ball, popup and Trey Mancini’s second of four strikeouts on the night kept Mullins from crossing the plate in the third. Turns out, it didn’t really matter.
López retired the side in order on 11 pitches in the first inning, striking out Joey Gallo on a changeup and strolling back to the dugout. His fastball topped out at 96 mph. He threw a slider, sinker and knuckle-curve.
The menu featured a sampler platter and the Rangers kept biting.
López blew 95 mph heat past Adolis García and a 96 mph four-seamer past Dahl to open the second inning, and he froze Solak with a 97 mph sinker. Six up, six down and another stroll.
Seventeen strikes among the first 24 pitches.
Anderson Tejada struck out looking at a 95 mph fastball with one out in the third and López dialed it up to 96 to get Leody Taveras, who also kept the bat on his shoulder.
Nine up, nine down. Six strikeouts in three frames. Twenty-six strikes among 34 pitches. Same stride to the bench.
But could he keep it going as the Rangers got more looks at him?
Leadoff hitter Isiah Kiner-Falefa swung through a 96 mph fastball in the fourth. Gallo walked with two outs to stop the flirtation with a perfect game, but García was called out on strikes on another 97 mph sinker.
Painting the corners without the nasty fumes.
López allowed 11 runs and 11 hits in 8 2/3 innings in his first two starts. Tonight provided a reminder that his stuff can be nasty - he got 14 swinging strikes - and it’s just a matter of how far to push him. Whether poking his head into the middle innings is his ceiling. Whether that’s acceptable for a No. 4 starter.
“He’s had his trouble there in the fourth and the fifth inning so far this season, so with the third time in the order coming back around, unfortunate with the two homers, but I was so encouraged by his first four innings,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “That was so impressive. Using his fastball to both sides of the plate, showing a good curveball, just dominating, and hopefully he can build off this one.
“I wanted to have Lopie leave on a high note and Paul start with a clean inning and that worked out.”
Ruiz took a Mike Foltynewicz sinker 406 feet to the opposite field with the bases empty. The Orioles were rolling. Maybe they were just excited to play nine innings again, though that’s longer to hold onto a lead.
Galvis led off the fifth with a double and moved to third base on Mullins’ single, the center fielder bouncing back nicely after his 15-game hitting streak ended yesterday. Anthony Santander flied to deep center and Stewart demolished a sinker - exit velocity 109.6 mph - for a 5-0 lead.
“It was huge, just momentum-wise, confidence-wise,” Stewart said. “We had a meeting this morning and sometimes that’s how baseball is. It’s just not going our way, unlucky things, but it was big for us to get to them early and kind of put them away.”
“Two great swings,” Hyde said. “Great to see Rio drive the ball the other way, the shortest swing he’s had this season. That’s a long way there, too. That’s 400-plus in the opposite gap. So, yeah, that was fantastic.”
Fry retired all five batters he faced with three strikeouts and Dillon Tate stranded two runners in the seventh. Adam Plutko struck out two in a flawless eighth, raising the Orioles’ total to 14. César Valdez notched his third save after Maikel Franco’s throwing error and an infield hit.
His last pitch produced the 15th strikeout.