A bullpen game to compensate for optioning a starter to the minors is a shakier proposition when six relievers are used the previous night.
At least the Orioles planned on it tonight. Well, part of it.
The Astros unexpectedly tapped into their bullpen in the second inning to replace injured starter José Urquidy. Travis Lakins Sr. exited with an injury after loading the bases with two outs in the bottom of the second.
There are bullpen games and then there are emergency situations, mad scrambling and an unexpected opportuntiy to relax.
Lakins had right elbow discomfort, leading to more testing and perhaps leading the Orioles to choose a pitcher from their taxi squad Wednesday as a corresponding roster move.
Manager Brandon Hyde called upon only three relievers, prayed and exhaled as his club broke open the game late. Austin Hays had a two-run single to break a tie in the fifth, Abraham Toro’s two-run single off Alexander Wells in the bottom half knotted the score again, Cedric Mullins doubled with two outs in the seventh to plate Ramón Urías with the tie-breaking run and the Orioles rolled to a 13-3 victory at Minute Maid Park.
Anthony Santander hit his first home run since June 8 with a solo shot off Ryne Stanek in the eighth and Maikel Franco had a three-run double later in the inning. Wells earned his first major league win and the Orioles improved to 26-54 with their fourth victory in 20 games.
They’re now 1-5-1 in their last seven series, claiming their first since June 4-6 against the Indians and first on the road since May 3-5 in Seattle - the clincher John Means’ no-hitter
Nine runs scored in the last two innings. Mullins finished with four hits on the night.
Isaac Mattson, Spenser Watkins and Conner Greene are in Houston. Mattson is the only pitcher of the three on the 40-man roster, but the Orioles could select someone else if the emphasis is on potential length. And if the Lakins injury is going to sideline him.
It’s not like the Orioles have a wealth of available relievers at their disposal.
Adam Plutko worked out of a bases-loaded jam last night to earn the save in a 9-7 win, and he kept them loaded tonight on Michael Brantley’s fly ball after replacing Lakins.
Lakins is getting an MRI in the morning and the results should be available later in the day.
“I didn’t know how we were going to finish the game, to be 100 percent honest,” Hyde said on his Zoom call. “I felt like we needed to try to squeeze at least three out of him to start the game, and when that didn’t happen, we had a bunch of guys pick us up.”
Hays came to the plate with two runners in scoring position and two outs in the fifth after Mullins struck out. He lined a single over shortstop against reliever Brooks Raley for a 3-1 lead. The hit made him 10-for-25 with a double, home run and six RBIs in his last seven games.
Urías extended his hitting streak to nine games with a leadoff single in the seventh, and Ralph Garza Jr.’s wild pitch put him in scoring position. He stood on third base with two outs as Mullins faced Stanek and slapped a double to left field in the latest display of quality hitting.
He also reached on an infield single in the eighth and singled again in the ninth for seven hits in his last two games. Hays followed Mullins in the eighth with an RBI single for a 9-3 lead.
The power shows, too.
Mullins hit his 14th home run, another leadoff shot on the second pitch of the game. Urquidy threw him a fastball, Mullins wrapped it around the right field foul pole and more fans signed on to cast their All-Star votes.
“I’ve been watching down at Triple-A. It’s crazy what he’s doing,” Wells said. “He’s putting up really good numbers and there’s no doubt he should be in Colorado in the coming weeks.”
Why isn’t he in the Derby?
In the Orioles’ 26 wins, Mullins is batting .467 (50-for-107) and has hit safely in 25 of the games.
“I think it means he’s on base a lot and he’s making things happen,” Hyde said. “Unbelievable game again. For hits, homer to lead off the game, gets us going right away, plays great defense. Doing it all. When he plays well we have a good chance, and he’s playing well in wins and losses right now.”
Said Mullins: “It’s a great feeling. I’m always trying to contribute in some form or fashion, win or lose. It’s just a matter of trying to stay consistent, and when we have moments when we have opportunities to win games, I want to be part of that.”
Urquidy retired four of five batters, ran the count to 1-2 against Domingo Leyba in the second inning and walked off the mound with right shoulder discomfort. Andre Scrubb replaced him.
The Orioles caught a break. Urquidy faced them Wednesday and tossed seven scoreless innings. He allowed only five runs in his last three starts over 21 innings,
Better to take your chances with the bullpen.
The bottom half of the inning was weird for Lakins from the beginning. He walked three batters, threw a wild pitch, hit a batter and committed a balk. Lakins manufactured the run, with Carlos Correa leading off with a walk, advancing on the wild pitch and balk that manager Brandon Hyde argued, and scoring on Toro’s fly ball.
Lakins didn’t appear to do anything wrong. Didn’t budge. Unless there was an illegal blink, the call by plate umpire Junior Valentine seemed to be a curious one.
The hit batter also was questionable because the ball appeared to strike the knob of Martin Maldonado’s bat, especially when considering how far it bounced away. Unless his hand is made of concrete.
Then came the injury, which brought assistant athletic trainer Patrick Wesley to the mound with Hyde. And also raised more questions about whether a rash of injuries are related to the ban on sticky substances, which pitchers complain cause a greater strain on the arm.
Plutko put two runners on base with no outs in the third and escaped via a pair of strikeouts and a fly ball. But his stay was restricted because of last night’s unexpected call to replace Paul Fry.
The repercussions of a growing number of command issues on the pitching staff.
Plutko worked two scoreless innings but allowed two hits and walked three batters.
Wells replaced Plutko with two outs in the fourth after Jose Altuve walked. The inning included Austin Wynns throwing out Myles Straw trying to steal after a leadoff walk and Ryan McKenna throwing out Maldonado at second base after the catcher admired his fly ball and watched it bounce high off the left field wall.
Wynns is 5-for-11 throwing out runners and he came extremely close to nabbing two more tonight, with both calls reviewed.
The Orioles walked 10 batters last night and had eight tonight through the sixth. Wells, known for his pinpoint control in the minors, surrendered the lead in the fifth after Yordan Alvarez singled and Carlos Correa walked. Kyle Tucker flied out to Mullins, with both runners advancing, and Toro singled.
Wells handed out another walk in the sixth and stranded two runners. He departed with one out in the seventh after Tucker’s single, working 2 2/3 innings, and Dillon Tate recorded two outs on two pitches.
Working in relief has been “a bit different,” Wells said, “but I’m learning every day, working every day, seeing what the other guys do to prepare to go into the games and just taking mental notes to know that you don’t need to throw a lot of pitches to get ready, and you do have your eight warmup pitches out on the mound when you get out there. So just taking it in and I’m enjoying the new role.”
Tate struck out five batters in two spotless innings in his previous outing. He tossed another 2 2/3 scoreless innings tonight, earning his first big league save, though he also issued the team’s ninth walk after pacing in the dugout during the long five-run eighth.
“Dillon Tate there at the end, that was phenomenal, not having to pitch anybody else,” Hyde said. “Most of these guys pitched last night, they’ve had heavy workloads. Dillon Tate threw two innings two days ago, comes back out and gives us 2 2/3. So, great job by the guys that came after Lakins to get outs. We walked too many once again, but it was nice to piece it together there when it was uncertain the second and third inning.”
Santander hadn’t homered in 17 games before tonight and collected only one RBI. McKenna followed with a walk, Leyba singled, Urías walked and Franco cleared the bases with a double off the center field fence.
Two slumping players perking up in the same inning.
Franco was 4-for-31 in his last nine games before tonight, when he also doubled in the ninth off Robel Garcia, a position player forced to pitch. Santander singled in the inning for his first two-hit game since June 8, and Urías and Wynns belted two-run homers.
The Astros outscored the Orioles 26-3 in Baltimore. The Orioles have totaled 22 runs in the first two games in Houston.
“I’d say the biggest thing we’ve been doing is passing the torch, creating opportunities for guys up and down the lineup,” Mullins said.
Cody Sedlock tossed two scoreless innings with three strikeouts before a rain delay.
Single-A Delmarva reliever Jake Lyons allowed an unearned run and two hits with eight strikeouts in five innings. Starter Griffin McLarty allowed one run and four hits with one walk and six strikeouts in four innings.