O’s rotation takes small step forward, plus other notes

We know that the Orioles starting rotation has not covered a lot of innings this year, said Captain Obvious. Through Wednesday’s games, the Baltimore rotation has thrown 430 2/3 innings to rank last in the majors. That is 15 fewer innings than Kansas City, although the Royals had played one fewer game than the Orioles. The Baltimore bullpen has had to cover 389 2/3 innings, which ranks as the third most in the majors.

So we have a bit of an imbalance here. The O’s need more starter innings, added the Captain.

But the last four games have been better for the Orioles.

* Sunday, Matt Harvey threw six scoreless innings at Kansas City.
* Monday, Spenser Watkins allowed one run in six frames against Tampa Bay.
* Tuesday, John Means returned to allow five runs in five innings against the Rays.
* Wednesday, Alexander Wells gave up three runs in 5 2/3 versus Tampa Bay.

When I looked to see the last time this year an Orioles starting pitcher had thrown five innings or more in four consecutive games, the answer was not any time this year. This is a first for the 2021 Orioles.

You have to start somewhere, I guess.

In that four-game stretch the starters have an ERA of 3.57, which is solid. And Means is the weak link in that very small sample size. The Orioles have gone 2-2 in those games, which we know easily could and probably should be 3-1.

Thumbnail image for Harvey-Matt-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgBefore this stretch that began last Sunday, they had gotten fewer than five innings from their starters in 14 of the last 15 games. Since June, they have played 41 games, getting just four starts of six or more in that span. Before Harvey and Watkins delivered back-to-back quality starts on Sunday and Monday, the O’s had received just two QS in the previous 37 games.

Maybe Means’ return and Watkins’ recent solid pitching will boost the rotation for the first time this year. The fact that the team’s next nine games are against clubs with losing records might help the cause.

The Orioles have gotten just 17 quality starts this year. They have a winning record of 9-8 in those games. Nothing great there, but a .529 win percentage still beats by a mile their overall .326 win percentage.

Wells has only pitched 43 innings this year at Triple-A Norfolk. Ideally, the club would love to have him still with the Tides pitching every fifth day or on some set schedule. But Means was out, Keegan Akin is now out and Bruce Zimmermann remains out. Zac Lowther is on the minor league injured list. The options dwindled a bit and Wells got the call. So far he is taking advantage of his few big league outings.

Wells attacks hitters and shows no fear. He throws a lot of strikes. So give him the ball again. Right-hander Jorge López (2-12, 6.04 ERA) gets the start tonight against the Nationals and Watkins (2-0, 1.65 ERA) gets the ball on Saturday. He is being moved ahead of Matt Harvey (4-10, 7.13 ERA), who would be pitching on six days rest if he gets the start on Sunday. Working on extra rest (a lot of it, 10 days helped by the All-Star break) last time out, Harvey threw his best game of the year at Kauffman Stadium. He allowed three singles over six innings on 74 pitches.

O’s and Nats tonight: The Orioles resume their Mid-Atlantic rivalry with the Washington Nationals (45-50) tonight at Camden Yards. The Nats were 40-38 on June 30 and just two games out of first in the National League East. But they are 5-12 since then and now are in fourth place, six games behind the division-leading Mets.

These teams have played every year since 2006, with the Orioles winning the season series eight times, losing twice. The teams have split the series five times. The Orioles are 45-38 all-time versus the Nationals, including a mark of 23-17 in Baltimore.

But Washington swept the Birds three straight at Nats Park from May 21-23, winning 4-2, 12-9 and 6-5. So with one win this weekend, Washington will win a season series for just the third time over the Orioles. The Orioles went 4-2 against the Nationals last year and are 6-7 in the last 13 games between the teams after being swept earlier this year.

The AFL returns: Not talking about Joe Namath and Daryl Lamonica, but the Arizona Fall League will be back this year. That is, for now, the tentative plan, with the league beginning play Oct. 13 and the championship game set for Nov. 20. That makes for a 30-game schedule with a Fall Stars game set for Nov. 13.

The rosters will be made up of 35 players, with each major league team sending seven players. So each squad will be made up of prospects from five different big league clubs. No word yet on any Orioles that will be playing in this year’s AFL.

But it gives some prospects more chances to get reps against high-quality competition. It also can provide players who missed time because of injury a chance to get additional at-bats or innings. For instance, lefty DL Hall could be a candidate for the league.

FCL update: Play began in the Florida Complex League June 28 and I posted the club rosters here.

The leading hitter in that league is Craig Lewis, 24, the Orioles’ 33rd-round draft pick in 2019. He is batting .435 and ranks second in the league with a 1.188 OPS. Infielder Moises Ramirez, 19 from the Dominican Republic, is seventh in the league, batting .361, and 11th with an OPS of .932.

Infielder Josue Cruz, 20, from the Dominican Republic, has the third-best OPS among O’s players in that league at .869, and Stiven Acevedo, 18, from the Dominican, is fourth at .737.

Coby Mayo, the high school third baseman the O’s selected in round four of the 2020 draft, has played in 14 games and is batting .277/.393/.383/.776 with two doubles, a homer and four RBIs.

The Orioles have two teams in that league, the former Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. The O’s black team is 8-7 but the O’s orange squad is just 1-16.

That’s Kyle with a K: Double-A Bowie right-hander Kyle Brnovich, acquired in the Dylan Bundy trade with the Angels in December 2019, was compiling more strikeouts last night. He threw five scoreless innings on three hits with no walks and 10 strikeouts as the Baysox beat Hartford 4-0 at Prince George’s Stadium.

This year between Bowie and high Single-A Aberdeen, he is 4-1 with a 2.40 ERA. Over 56 1/3 innings he has walked 13 and fanned 75 with a WHIP of 0.83. Among O’s minor leaguers with 50 or more innings, his K rate of 11.40 ranks third in the organization behind Grayson Rodriguez at 13.86 and Kyle Bradish (also from the Bundy trade) at 13.09. Brnovich is getting those strikeouts with a fastball that tops out in the low 90s.

Big right-hander Félix Bautista fanned two in a scoreless ninth, touching 100 on the stadium gun. Over 22 1/3 innings this year between Aberdeen and Bowie, he has walked 15 and fanned 38. That is a 15.32 K rate.

Outfielder Kyle Stowers was 2-for-4 with a double for Bowie. At .950, among qualified players, Stowers has the second-best OPS in the O’s organization. In 27 games since his promotion to Double-A, he is batting .319/.423/.596/1.019 with eight doubles, six homers and 15 RBIs.

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