As offense struggles, the starting pitching continues to impress

The Orioles rotation has gotten younger, but the best news is that it has gotten better in recent weeks. Three rookies have made their debuts in Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann. Akin and Kremer have combined to go 2-1 with an ERA of 2.01 in their seven starts. And even at a time when the Orioles are not scoring much, they are 4-3 in those games.

Zimmermann gave up five runs in his major league debut. But even adding in that start, the rookies have an ERA of 3.15 over eight starts where the Orioles have gone 4-4. So in games when they did not start a rookie, they are 18-27.

As team, the Orioles rotation ERA for the season is 4.83 to rank eighth-best in the American League. Their rotation ERA was 5.57 and rated 14th in the AL last season. The year before that it, was 5.48 to rank last in the AL.

Over the last nine games, O’s starters allowed one earned run or less five times with an ERA of 3.11. Over the past 16 games, their starter gave up one earned run or less nine times. The starter ERA is 3.69 in that 16-game stretch.

The Orioles have just eight quality starts on the season, but they have picked up four of them the past eight games and six in the last 14.

Lopez-Delivers-Orange-Sidebar.jpgRight-hander Jorge López has two in a row after allowing three runs in six innings in Saturday night’s 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay. López threw 45 fastballs that averaged 94 mph last night, per Statcast, and 38 curveballs. He got 42 swings and nine whiffs. He has an ERA of 2.77 in his past two starts and 3.95 in five starts as an Oriole. If this was an audition to see if he should be among the key contenders for the 2021 rotation, he passed the test.

The best news for the team’s future is that more pitching prospects should be on the way between now and the end of the 2021 season. We could see Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells, Michael Baumann and Kevin Smith, just to name four.

As I said on my postgame radio show last night, we’re getting half a loaf right now with good pitching and a lack of offense. But we’re getting the more important half.

Speaking of pitching, Evan Phillips has had his best two games with the organization in his last two. In this series, he’s pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings over two outings with eight strikeouts and no walks. That is 10 outs he’s recorded and eight via a strikeout. In those games, the Rays swung at 20 of his pitches and missed 12 times. Last night, they whiffed in five of eight swings at his mid-90s fastball. It was impressive.

Don Long on O’s offense: So the Orioles have not been scoring nearly enough runs lately. Heading into last night’s game, they had scored one run or less in seven of the previous 10 games. Then they added to the list.

But there were times when the offense was humming earlier this year and there were games when early-count hitting was something very productive for the team. Yes, working the count can be important too, but the Orioles began play last night leading the AL and second in the majors in batting average on the first pitch at .416. They ranked second in the AL and fourth in the majors in team OPS (1.101) when putting the 0-0 pitch in play.

During a Zoom interview Saturday, O’s hitting coach Don Long talked about the club’s first-pitch success.

“We want to be ready to hit from the first pitch of the at-bat on,” said Long. “And that doesn’t mean just swing and be aggressive. It means being aggressive under control and understanding your strengths. Not just swinging at a strike. If my best opportunity to hit something hard is something up in the zone or middle in, I don’t want to go after a strike that is low and away just to be aggressive. So it’s being able to define what you are good at.

“But in general, we want to be ready to hit every pitch until our eyes tell us no. Sometimes our eyes don’t always tell us the right thing. But we need to be ready to hit. Because the quality of the guys we’re facing, so many times, the first pitch might be the best pitch. The best opportunity to be successful. If you just stand there and take strike one, a lot of times the at-bat becomes much tougher because of that one pitch. So, in general, we want to be ready to hit from the first pitch of the at-bat on.”

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