Four-run first inning and leak-proof bullpen lead to series sweep

Cedric Mullins is expected to represent the Orioles at the All-Star Game, finding out Sunday night whether he made it as a starter. Trey Mancini already confirmed his participation in the Home Run Derby. They can hang out in Denver.

Ryan Mountcastle won’t be tagging along, but he’s distracted with strengthening his candidacy for American League Rookie of the Month. With more prestigious hardware in his sights.

Astros starter Luis Garcia hung a slider tonight with two outs in the top of the first and Mountcastle grounded it past the backhand reach of third baseman Robel García. Two of the inning’s four runs scored, a taxed bullpen logged 4 2/3 scoreless innings and the Orioles closed out the mathematical first half of their season with a 5-2 victory.

Matt Harvey retired the first 10 batters and didn’t make it out of the fifth inning, leaving him winless since May 1. But Austin Hays came off the bench to homer in the eighth, a huge insurance run, and the Orioles (27-54) registered their first sweep since the opening series in Boston.

They swept the Astros for the first time since June 17-19, 2008 and hadn’t done it at Minute Maid Park until this week.

Held to three runs when the teams met at Camden Yards, the Orioles erupted for 27 in this series, including 13 in a span of three innings beginning with the eighth last night.

Tanner Scott, Paul Fry and Cole Sulser blanked the Astros on one hit and a walk. Sulser recorded the five-out save, his third of the season.

“Extremely big,” manager Brandon Hyde said on his Zoom call. “Those guys just did a great job.”

“It was huge,” Sulser said. “I think the guys did a great job, all the guys going one-plus. Paul Fry picked us up big, Tanner Scott, so it was really big for the bullpen, for sure, to be able to go in there and eat up some innings. We get a little breather after this. Finally get a needed off-day, so we’re definitely looking forward to it.”

The bullpen did experience a crisis, however. Hunter Harvey began to warm and stopped due to soreness in his right shoulder.

Harvey began the season on the injured list with a strained oblique and has made nine appearances.

“That’s why I talked to the umpire, because I didn’t have Paul ready, obviously, and we needed to get some time there,” Hyde said.

Third baseman Maikel Franco had three hits, but he limped off the field with a sprained right ankle after slipping while chasing the final out in foul territory and avoiding a collision with Ryan McKenna. He’ll undergo precautionary X-rays.

“We’ll see the severity of it,” Hyde said. “I was encouraged how he walked off. I think it scared him at first. I haven’t seen the video but it sounds like he rolled it pretty good, and we’ll know more tomorrow.”

Hays-Swings-Gray-HR-Sidebar.jpgHays, who’s homered on back-to-back nights, lined a ball over the left field wall leading off the eighth inning to spoil Ryan Hartman’s major league debut. Hays has 12 hits in his last seven games and went 6-for-12 in the series.

Mountcastle began the night batting .333/.390/.646 (32-for-96) in June and led American League rookies in average, OBP, slugging, OPS (1.036), hits (32), home runs (nine), RBIs (24), extra-base hits (12) and total bases (62). The grounder tonight didn’t impress the exit velocity enthusiasts, but he made contact. Garcia wasn’t milking much of it.

Plate umpire CB Bucknor, who has a seat at the bad umpires table, ejected Astros pitching coach Brent Strom in the first inning. Strom came to the mound after Garcia issued back-to-back walks to Mullins and Mancini to begin the game. The strike zone wasn’t popular in the home dugout. Strom apparently shared that information and was tossed.

Garcia also walked DJ Stewart with one out following Mountcastle’s double, giving him three for the first time since April 20. Franco lined an RBI single into center field, his fourth hit and RBI in two nights.

Stewart scored on Pedro Severino’s sacrifice fly to left field - more of a screaming line drive - and Garcia had surrendered a career-high four earned runs. He threw 44 pitches before Harvey took his turn.

Rather than mimic Garcia’s early walks, Harvey struck out the first two batters and retired the side in order. The bizarro half of the inning.

The Astros collected four singles in the fourth inning to cut the lead to 4-2 - the last through the vacated shortstop position in the shift. Harvey issued back-to-back one-out walks in the fifth and left with his pitch count at 79.

“I felt good,” Harvey said. “I kind of had everything working. It was nice to get early contact, ground balls.”

Scott stranded both runners and struck out four of five batters, his fastball clocked at 99 mph.

His stuff is electric. It’s just the inconsistent command that’s held him back.

Fry was used in the seventh tonight and got a 3-6 double play after a leadoff walk. Jose Altuve led off the eighth with a single, Sulser replaced Fry and the right-hander struck out Yuli Gurriel and retired Yordan Alvarez on a fly ball.

Garcia rebounded from the traumatic first to string together three scoreless innings. Mullins greeted reliever Brandon Bielak with a single in the fifth, advanced on a wild pitch with no outs and was stranded. Mountcastle flied to deep right-center field.

Two more were stranded in the sixth, including Franco, who reached on an infield hit with one out on a play that should have been ruled an error on Robel García. Franco has six hits in the past two nights.

Notes: Keegan Akin, Jorge López and Thomas Eshelman are starting for the Orioles in the three-game series in Anaheim. The Angels aren’t listing their starters.

Dean Kremer worked 5 2/3 innings tonight with Triple-A Norfolk and allowed six runs (four earned) and seven hits with two walks, nine strikeouts, a home run and two wild pitches.

Double-A Bowie’s Blaine Knight allowed one run and two hits with two walks and six strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. Patrick Dorrian extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a single in the eighth. Adley Rutschman had two hits and is batting .291 with a .947 OPS.

Gunnar Henderson was 0-for-20 at Single-A Aberdeen until collecting an RBI single. He has 11 walks in eight games.

Darell Hernaiz and TT Bowens homered for Single-A Delmarva in the second game of a doubleheader. Hudson Haskin had a double and triple in the opener.

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