Orioles manager Brandon Hyde excused himself this afternoon from his pregame chat session with the media in the dugout and headed over to the cage to introduce himself to the organization’s top two draft picks and watch them take batting practice.
Colton Cowser and Connor Norby received the royal treatment before flying to Sarasota and beginning their professional careers in the Florida Complex League. Meanwhile, Hyde was pulled away from the future and plopped back into the present, where he wondered how many innings Jorge López would give him, how he might close out the game if presented with a slim lead and whether his lineup could manufacture an ample supply of runs.
Hyde naturally had the final say in the length of López’s start, removing him with a runner on third base and one out shy of qualifying for the win. Eighty-two pitches in 4 2/3, third time through the order, Juan Soto at the plate
Paul Fry retired Soto on one pitch and struck out the side in the sixth, Ramón Urías drove in two runs, Pat Valaika homered twice from the bottom of the order and the Orioles began their homestand with a 6-1 victory over the Nationals before an announced crowd of 17,022 at Camden Yards.
The bullpen registered 4 1/3 scoreless innings with eight strikeouts and the Orioles raised their record to 32-64 overall and 1-3 versus the Nationals. They’re 46-38 in the all-time series, including 24-17 at home.
The interleague record in 2021 also looks a little better at 3-7.
Josh Bell led off the fourth inning with a 448-foot home run to center field to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead. Left-hander Patrick Corbin retired the first nine batters, needing only seven pitches in the first, but back-to-back doubles by Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays tied the game in the fourth.
Urías lined a single into right field to score Hays for a 2-1 lead. His second RBI came on a fielder’s choice grounder in the sixth, with Trey Mancini sliding under the high throw from shortstop Trea Turner and leaping catcher Tres Barrera, who landed on him, to push the Orioles ahead 4-1.
The Orioles tacked on another run after Wander Suero replaced Corbin. Bell was charged with a two-base error after failing to catch Suero’s pickoff throw and Urías scored on Pedro Severino’s fly ball.
Valaika homered in the fifth inning and again in the seventh, giving him three in his last two starts. He has four on the season, the first coming on May 5 during John Means’ no-hitter.
“It’s nice to see a smile on Pat’s face because you can tell he’s been grinding for a while,” Hyde said on his Zoom call.
Tonight marked his second career multi-homer game, the other in 2017 with the Rockies. The Orioles have 10 on the season.
“I think tonight I just squared up those balls better than I have pretty much this whole year,” Valaika said. “It felt good to actually drive the ball and not see it die on the track, so hopefully I can continue that and keep it rolling.”
López hasn’t competed the fifth inning in his last five starts, and his fallen an out short in four. Soto had walked and flied out, and Hyde wanted the left-on-left matchup with Fry, who induced a ground ball to first baseman Ryan Mountcastle.
“I didn’t get disappointed,” López said on his Zoom call. “Skipper and me, we’ve been talking about how rough that fifth inning has been and if he’s got the feeling to take me out, he will.”
What was Hyde seeing that made him remove López?
“I was seeing Juan Soto,” he said.
“I had Paul Fry ready for him and Paul Fry did a great job.”
Fry used the slider to strike out Bell, Ryan Zimmermann and Josh Harrison in the sixth, with teams searching for relievers taking notice. Cole Sulser struck out two batters in the seventh but also put two on base before Tanner Scott entered and retired Turner on one pitch.
Scott retired the side in order in the eighth, striking out two and rebounding nicely from Wednesday’s blown save. Also a trade chip who’s attracting scouts.
“Both the left-handers did a really nice job and won us the game,” Hyde said.
“It’s nice to see Tanner come in after kind of a tough inning a couple of days ago and face a tough middle of the order and go 1 1/3 and punch out two of them. It was nice to see him bounce back the way he did. Tanner’s got under a 3 ERA, so he’s doing a lot of things right.”
Dillon Tate breezed through the ninth with a strikeout.
“It’s just consistency with Dillon, like so many of our guys,” Hyde said. “It’s 97-98 sinkers. He gets the first two guys out right away and then with him, with his stuff, there’s no excuse there to fall behind on the third hitter there. Finish the inning. I yelled out, ‘Finish the inning.’ ... I just want him to go and trust the 97-98 and get the ball on the ground or swing and miss, because the stuff is so good.”
Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells was placed on the injured list retroactive to Tuesday with right wrist tendinitis. The announcement came after the final out, and it explains why he wasn’t available Wednesday.
Wells has been used twice this month, his last appearance Monday night against the Rays. The Orioles will call up a reliever Saturday.
“I think we’re expecting him to be back once the 10 days are up, so we’re hopeful with that,” Hyde said.
The bullpen more than made up for his absence tonight.
“They were nails,” Valaika said. “Lopie did really good and then our bullpen was just lights out. It was nice to extend the lead a little bit and not have too many pressure innings or anything. The bullpen did a tremendous job and I feel like lately they’ve been really good.”
Urías’ latest hitting streak is six games and he’s 19-for-58 (.328) this month. He batted fifth again tonight. It’s gone from odd to a pretty good fit.
“He’s playing extremely well,” Hyde said. “Contributing almost on a nightly basis, doing something positive for us.”
Notes: The Orioles signed their third-round selection (No. 76 overall), outfielder John Rhodes of the University of Kentucky. They’ve signed 17 of their 21 picks, the highest unsigned being sixth-rounder Collin Burns, a shortstop from Tulane University. They’re also waiting to reach agreements with catcher Connor Pavolony (seventh), right-hander Daniel Lloyd (14th) and outfielder Trendon Craig (20th).
Knuckleballer Mickey Jannis started tonight for Triple-A Norfolk and allowed seven earned runs (nine total) with five hits and four walks in 3 2/3 innings. Tyler Joyner replaced him and surrendered six runs and five hits in one inning.
Catcher Cody Roberts had four passed balls and a grand slam.
Adley Rutschman had two hits and two RBIs.
Single-A Aberdeen’s Garrett Stallings tossed five scoreless innings with three hits, one walk and five strikeouts.