Checking on Orioles who have a lot to play for this month

What can we expect from the Orioles in September and those three October games in Toronto that attach to the schedule like skin tags?

Probably more losses than wins, considering their record and the teams awaiting them, though four games at home against the Royals and four against the Rangers will be spun as soft spots.

That’s not what I’m talking about. Let’s move beyond the schedule and look closer at how the Orioles could use these final weeks. Some players who could really benefit from them. A few personal goals.

More of the menu will be shared later. Consider today’s story as a selection of appetizers.

The rotation remains fluid, with a fifth starter hopping into it soon and prospects down at Triple-A possibilities to join it later. Whether returnees or the latest major league debuts.

Manager Brandon Hyde sounds committed to running Keegan Akin out there every fifth or sixth day. Akin has allowed two runs and five hits in his last two starts over 12 innings. His command is better, maybe due to pitching from the stretch. Just “keeping it simple,” as he said.

It adds up to winning decisions in his last two attempts.

“He’s going to get plenty more starts,” Hyde said. “We’re going to see him a lot. And the lineups he’s going to face, if you look at our schedule in September, it’s going to be teams that are making a push for the postseason and trying to win every single game, and that’s a great way to evaluate a player at the major league level is the type of teams we’re ...

“This division can only get you better. If you’re a competitor, you know where you stack up pretty quick because of the lineups you face, and we’re going to face a ton of really good lineups the rest of the way, like we have been. We’re early on in this process, we’re still looking at a ton of players here and Keegan is one of those, and a guy that’s homegrown, and now he’s settled in the last two starts and let’s hope that he finishes the season strong and throws good the rest of the way.”

Guess he’d have to pitch his way out of the rotation. The latest opportunity is right there in front of him. He seems better equipped to handle it.

I’ve explained the logic, or at least my logic, in having Ramón Urías step aside a bit and let other infielders play more. He’s passed the audition. What else does he need to show?

Well, Hyde wants to keep watching it. He appreciates what Urías has done as a hitter and defender. And he wants to win games, which Urías can help the Orioles do.

Hyde will find ways to keep evaluating Jorge Mateo and Jahmai Jones and also play Urías. And he likes Kelvin Gutiérrez’s defense at third base.

Urías is an unsung hero with his .272/.350/.418 line in 74 games with 13 doubles, seven home runs and 36 RBIs. He had a big two-run double Tuesday night, singled and scored on Wednesday and also made two outstanding stops and throws at third base.

Heading into the series finale in Toronto, Urías had the second-most RBIs on the club in the second half with 22. He was batting .355 (38-for-107) with runners on base, .350 (21-for-60) with runners in scoring position and .367 (11-for-30) with RISP and two outs.

The .350 average with RISP led the club.

No one could have predicted it.

“Just really solid,” Hyde said. “Solid defender. He started the (Tuesday) game at third, made a couple nice plays. I put him at short there late, ball goes to him, makes the play. Has been really solid defensively. I think he’s still learning the speed of the major league game a little bit, and he’s continuing to get better there.

“Offensively, he puts together good at-bats. He uses the whole field, he’s got some juice in the middle part of the field. His barrel stays in the strike zone a long time. It’s a simple swing, and he gives himself a chance.”

He’s doing exactly that - giving himself a chance to be included in the 2022 plans.

A really nice waiver claim from the Cardinals in February 2020. One that didn’t get a whole lot of publicity.

Mateo is staying in the lineup as long as his back pain doesn’t return. He will play shortstop and second base, and the Orioles will glean whether he can hit enough to warrant a roster spot.

They can’t afford the luxury of carrying a pinch-runner. This isn’t Charlie Finley signing Herb Washington. Speed alone won’t win Mateo a job, though it’s a tantalizing tool.

Mateo has 25 hits in 22 games with the Orioles and is slashing .325/.366/.481 with seven doubles, a triple and a home run. So far, so promising.

Chris Ellis is getting another start on Saturday, his third, and he can give the Orioles lots to think about in terms of the rotation or long relief next summer. And he really needs to keep impressing to avoid getting pushed to the curb if the club calls up some of its prospects, including Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther and Mike Baumann.

Alexander Wells already is back with the team and a possibility to start Tuesday against the Royals.

Ellis held down the Blue Jays earlier this week with only one run and two hits allowed in 4 2/3 innings.

Ellis-Throws-Gray-TOR-Sidebar.jpg“I’ll tell you what, he (Ellis) did everything we could ask him to do tonight,” Hyde said. “Went through the lineup twice. We were kind of thinking the 75-pitch range if everything worked out great, and it did. He only gave up one run, getting two outs there in the fifth. He kept us in the game and went through the lineup twice. Everything we could ask.”

Most important to me, he arrived from the Rays bullpen, where he shut out the Orioles over four innings and earned his first major league win. They have a knack for pitching.

Hyde has made it clear that he likes Jorge López in the bullpen. López, who’s first-year arbitration-eligible and trying to avoid non-tender status, seems - as MASN analyst Ben McDonald stated Wednesday - much more relaxed in his new role.

He’s also more effective.

López hasn’t allowed a run in four of his five appearances since leaving the rotation and proved to Hyde in Toronto that he could pitch on back-to-back nights. His velocity has returned.

If he keeps this up, he could be the power arm for the middle or late innings that other teams keep throwing at the Orioles. And López won’t protest because he just wants to be in the majors. He views every day as a blessing.

The final month gives him a chance to really improve his stock and change how the organization has viewed him this summer.

Matt Harvey may seem like a weird inclusion on my list here, but he’s pitching for a contract in 2022. Ideally, a major league deal. Going 6-14 so far with a 6.28 ERA and 1.516 WHIP isn’t casting him in a positive light, but he’s registered a 3.99 ERA and 1.120 WHIP in nine starts since the break.

Of course, he owes most of that success to his July work, going 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA and 0.955 WHIP in four starts.

I’m thinking more about his personal goal of staying healthy throughout the course of the year. He’s made 27 starts, tied for most in the American League and his most with the same team since accumulating 29 with the Mets in 2015.

Harvey totaled 28 in 2018, 24 with the Reds and four with the Mets.

He wants to keep going.

“There’s still starts to be had this year,” Harvey said after Wednesday night’s loss, when he allowed four runs and six hits in four innings.

“I couldn’t be happier that I’ve made 26 starts and have taken the ball pretty much every fifth day. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that, so definitely happy, like I said, there’s still some starts to be had.

“I think now you really have to dig deep and go out and whenever they give me the ball next, it’s my job to be prepared and get myself ready and, I guess, sprint through the finish line. And however many starts it is that they let me go out there, it’s my job to keep my head down and stay focused and do the best I can to finish strong.”

And finally, don’t expect Ryan Mountcastle to be chosen as the American League’s Rookie of the Month. In case you missed it, the honor was bestowed upon Boston’s Bobby Dalbec.

Dalbec batted .339/.431/.774 with 21 hits, four doubles, a triple, seven home runs, 21 RBIs and 12 runs scored in 24 games.

Mountcastle also received votes - trust me, he received votes - after batting .357/.397/.786 (25-for-70) with six doubles, eight home runs, 16 RBIs and 16 runs scored in 19 games.

Here’s his chance to impact the voting for American League Rookie of the Year. His name isn’t mentioned as much as it should be, and there are plenty of games remaining to pad those stats and turn more heads.

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