The game within the game begins early, shortly after the final note is struck in the anthem. Wondering how much length the starter can provide. How many calls must be made to the bullpen.
The piecing together of nine innings doesn’t come with an easy set of instructions.
Keegan Akin moved past the fifth inning once as a rookie in 2020, recording an out in the sixth. He completed the fifth in his previous start this month. Like other young pitchers on the staff, the Orioles are trying to safely push him as an element of his development.
Manager Brandon Hyde went to work tonight after Akin threw 95 pitches through the fourth. After the Orioles lost their lead and eventually the game to the Rays, 4-2, at Tropicana Field.
Trey Mancini hit a two-run homer off Ryan Yarbrough in the third, but the Orioles were held to three hits and fell to 22-40.
Brandon Lowe hit a two-run homer in the fourth to give Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead, after Austin Hays threw out Mike Brosseau trying to stretch a single into a double. Randy Arozarena stood at third base, Lowe jumped on a four-seam fastball and the rest of the Orioles’ advantage was gone.
Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells tossed two scoreless innings to run his streak to eight this month and slice his ERA to 3.99. He’s struck out eight batters.
“That was the highlight of the night,” Hyde said on his Zoom call after the Orioles lost their 13th road game in a row to tie the club record.
“You see the confidence on the mound, and it’s just growing and building.”
Mancini golfed a changeup into the left field seats, his first home run since May 26, after Pat Valaika reached on an error by Yarbrough, whose foot missed the bag he was covering.
The homer was Mancini’s 12th and increased his RBI total to 47. José Abreu, Rafael Devers, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Austin Meadows were tied for the lead with 48. Guerrero hit a two-run homer to move ahead.
Yarbrough has surrendered three home runs to Mancini this season.
The difference in Akin between spans when he’s cruising and others when he’s inefficient and pitch counts escalate comes down to command. Pretty much like anyone else, as Hyde noted before the game.
Akin walked the first two batters tonight, but retired Meadows on a popup and induced a double play grounder from Arozarena. The Rays cut the lead in half in the third on singles by Mike Zunino and Ryan Kiermaier, a wild pitch and Manuel Margot’s fielder’s choice grounder, with the Orioles failing to turn the double play.
Margot worked Akin for 10 pitches. The Rays drew 22 out of him in the first. Akin’s count read 62 after the third.
“For young guys, especially at this level, normally the mentality they have is just to try to throw the perfect pitch down in the zone, and that doesn’t work at this level,” said catcher Pedro Severino, who was 1-for-3. “When you try to be so perfect, that’s when you start to throw the ball far from home plate.”
Brosseau made his poor decision on the bases after seeing 10 pitches.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Akin said. “It’s always kind of in the back of your mind when you’re battling those at-bats out, but just got to execute and try to get them out in five pitches or less. That’s kind of the goal. Obviously, it’s frustrating I didn’t make some pitches I needed to make, but just move on and get to the next one.”
“I think my first-pitch strikes tonight were eight or nine for 18, which, it’s got to be higher than that. You look back at some of the outings where I’ve thrown well. Obviously, five innings is good, but I want to be a little better than good. I want to get in the sixth, go out maybe for the seventh. In those outings, first-pitch strikes, the percentage is so much higher than what it was tonight, and that’s kind of the No. 1 piece that I take away from some of these outings is first-pitch strike is such a game-changer when you have them on your heels.”
Jorge López, who starts Saturday afternoon, completed the sixth in back-to-back starts before going five innings in his most recent outing. And Hyde certainly can’t predict what rookie Bruce Zimmermann will give him on Sunday.
Matt Harvey’s slump is well-documented and it’s traveling with the team to Cleveland.
Cole Sulser hadn’t allowed a run in his last nine appearances - he also hadn’t pitched since June 4 - but Kiermaier led off the seventh with a ground ball toward third base, which Maikel Franco vacated in the shift. The double had an .070 expected batting average, per Statcast, and Margot’s single gave Tampa Bay a 4-2 lead.
Paul Fry also needed work because he hadn’t pitched since Sulser’s last appearance. He recorded the last two outs in the eighth.
Valaika drew a one-out walk in the eighth. Cedric Mullins came within a few feet of a possible triple to right field and bounced into a force to end his hitting streak at nine games. Mancini walked, but Anthony Santander popped up on the next pitch from J.P. Feyereisen.
Ryan Mountcastle had an RBI in eight consecutive games but was unable to extend the longest rookie streak in club history. He struck out in the first inning after Santander’s two-out double.
The overall team record is 11 by Doug DeCinces, but Reggie Jackson owns the mark in the same season with 10 in 1976.
Also ending was Mountcastle’s eight-game hitting streak, the longest of his career.
Notes: Triple-A Norfolk left-hander Zac Lowther tossed four scoreless innings tonight with three hits, two walks and four strikeouts.
Double-A Bowie’s Blaine Knight allowed one run and three hits in five innings, with no walks and seven strikeouts. He’s issued two walks in 29 2/3 innings between Single-A Aberdeen and Bowie.