Jorge López walked to the mound today in the bottom of the second inning, still trying to process what happened in the first. Or perhaps wishing he could forget about it and treat his return as a fresh start. Something his teammates desperately need right now.
What came next, most unfortunate for the Orioles, represented what’s happening to them this month.
There are no fresh starts or quality ones. Just more of the same, with the occasional sprinkling of intrigue.
And for López, an emotional pain that he tries to keep buried, the sport unable today to provide an escape.
Brandon Lowe hit a two-run homer on a hanging curveball, López couldn’t locate his pitches or find his normal velocity before making a hasty exit, and the Rays completed their sweep by defeating the Orioles 7-2 at Tropicana Field.
Manager Brandon Hyde and head athletic trainer Brian Ebel checked on López in the first. Hyde and major league coach Fredi González spoke to him on the bench after the second, leaning in as López sat quietly.
Veteran Fernando Abad pitched the third inning and the Orioles lost their 15th consecutive game, their longest streak since the 0-21 start in 1988. They’re 38-82 and officially set to finish below .500 for the fifth year in a row.
The Orioles are 1-15 against the Rays and 6-24 in St. Petersburg, Fla., since the beginning of the 2018 season. They’ve been outscored 138-42 during the streak.
“It’s not easy right now,” Hyde said. “We’re not in many games and that’s hard. The one thing I was proud of the last couple was in a lot of our losses, we made it close. ... Just right now we’re not even in the game.”
López went on the bereavement list earlier this summer while his young son Mikael underwent chemotherapy treatments and a bone marrow transplant. He came back quickly and made his start, but it’s been a mental grind.
“Nobody wants to be in this spot. I promise that,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep my head up and just keep walking forward. That’s all I can do, man. Just be strong.”
The Gameday pitch-tracker registered only changeups and knuckle-curves for López after recognizing a few early fastballs - 92.4 mph to Lowe on a leadoff double, 93.8 mph to Wander Franco on a hit-by-pitch that followed, 93.6-95 mph to Nelson Cruz on a single that loaded the bases with no outs and 93.9 mph to Austin Meadows on a walk that forced in a run.
Back-to-back fastballs to Ji-Man Choi, who grounded into a 5-3 double play in the shift to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead, were clocked at 90.9 and 87.6 mph.
Anything in the 88-89 mph range in the second inning registered as changeups, which Hall of Famer Jim Palmer wasn’t buying on the MASN telecast.
“We just saw the velocity drastically drop and just wanted to make sure he was OK, and he states that he’s OK physically,” Hyde said. “He just wasn’t himself today, so we just continue to talk to him and were hoping he was going to get the velocity back. But he said he felt fine. He’s just working through some things right now.”
Hyde said he didn’t notice before the game that López might not be ready to pitch.
“I felt like he was ready to go, but when his velocity dropped dramatically the way it did and after the hit-by-pitch, it just seemed like the stuff wasn’t the same,” Hyde said. “He was just kind of flipping the ball up there. Like I said, he’s working through some things.”
The Orioles could choose to pull back López and give him an opportunity to regroup.
“I think it’s too early to tell that right now,” Hyde said.
Would it benefit López to at least temporarily come out of the rotation?
“Tough to say,” he replied, “but I work my whole life to get here and I mean, that’s the last thing I want to do is just give up. I’m just going to come back stronger with the right mentality. We’ve all been through the same thing, we’ve all been doing the same thing. Just part of this game. Just keep learning and keep trusting in the process.”
Randy Arozarena struck out after the mound visit, with López shaking his head and staying in the game. López got away with a couple of pitches up in the zone for two outs, then walked Brett Phillips and watched his curveball to Lowe land in the right field seats for a 4-0 lead.
Lowe has five homers and 19 RBIs this season in 16 games against the Orioles.
Franco singled, Nelson Cruz struck out looking at López’s 48th pitch of the day and Hyde again had to go to his bullpen early.
Abad made his 387th appearance in the majors and never entered a game in relief as early as the third until today. He loaded the bases with one out in the fourth and Marcos Diplán struck out Cruz and walked Meadows for a 5-0 lead. Choi grounded a two-run single through the vacated shortstop area, the Orioles this time burned by the shift, and all three inherited had scored.
Catcher Pedro Severino and third baseman Ramón Urías let a foul popup drop near the visiting dugout before Meadows walked in the first. The play hasn’t been crisp - on the mound, at the plate, in the field and on the bases. Lots of reasons why a team loses 15 games in a row.
Jorge Mateo singled in the third inning to extend his hitting streak to 10 games, and a double in the seventh gave him 17 hits in 13 games with the Orioles. But he broke early for second base in the third, Rays starter Shane McClanahan threw behind him and Mateo was caught stealing for the second time in 11 attempts in the majors.
Severino doubled with one out in the second and was stranded. Urías doubled with no outs in the fifth and scored on Richie Martin’s opposite-field single, but the Orioles were pointed toward their third winless road trip.
Martin’s RBI made the Orioles 7-for-71 with runners in scoring position in their last 10 games. Mateo was stranded after his one-out double in the seventh, leaving them 7-for-73.
McClanahan held the Orioles to one and five hits with one walk and eight strikeouts in five innings. Dietrich Enns entered and Ryan Mountcastle singled in the sixth to extend his hitting streak to 11 games.
Konner Wade retired all six batters faced with four strikeouts. Urías homered with two outs in the ninth.
Orioles starters have worked five innings or fewer in 10 consecutive games after going six innings or more in nine of 19. Hyde can’t count on help being on the way in 2021, whether for the rotation or bullpen.
“It’s going to be up to Mike (Elias) and the group whether they’re going to bring prospect arms here or not,” he said this morning. “Whether we feel like somebody like Dean Kremer’s ready to come back here. We have some minor league free agent guys down there but nobody’s really knocking the door down to come back. We’ve really taken a look at everybody, so I’m going with the group that I’ve got right now and we’ll see what happens.”