Brandon Hyde has shown his sarcastic side this week.
The Orioles manager’s bullpen entered Wednesday’s game having covered 14 1/3 innings over the previous three nights. He joked after Monday’s hectic win that his bullpen was in “excellent shape, fresh as all could be.” On Wednesday morning, he once again quipped his taxed bullpen, which needed two innings from starting pitcher Jack Flaherty the night before, was “fresh.”
The dire state of the Orioles’ bullpen was never more evident than in the late innings of Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the Houston Astros. An exhausted relief corps blew a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning and allowed a walk-off single in the ninth to spoil another gem from ace Kyle Bradish.
Shintaro Fujinami was erratic in the eighth, walking two batters, and Mike Baumann followed to allow one of Fujinami’s runners to score. With the game tied in the ninth, left-hander Danny Coulombe allowed a leadoff double to Yainer Díaz and the winning hit to Mauricio Dubón.
In his third career start against Houston, Bradish was as unhittable as his first two, pitching six shutout innings. In 22 2/3 innings against the Astros, the right-hander has not allowed a run, giving up just six singles while striking out 25.
Aside from an RBI single from Anthony Santander in the first, Baltimore’s bats didn’t back up Bradish against Houston starter Cristian Javier, who struck out 11 in five innings. The Orioles managed just six hits and went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position after a four-game winning streak in which the club scored 30 runs.
The Orioles’ best chance to score came in the sixth when Santander doubled to lead off the inning and Ryan O’Hearn followed with a single off reliever Hector Neris. But Cedric Mullins, the team’s best hitter with runners in scoring position, lined out with his teammates on the corners, and Heston Kjerstad and Austin Hays followed with a shallow flyout and a groundout, respectively. The Orioles managed just one hit in the final three frames against Kendall Graveman, Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly.
“We had a tough time making contact,” Hyde said. “Thought he had a good fastball, kind of a sneaky fastball. Just kept us really off-balance. What killed us was that first and third, nobody out situation where [Mullins] lines out unfortunately. We could’ve broken it open a little bit there and give us a little bit of breathing room, knowing where our ’pen is right now.”
Baltimore (95-57) is up two games on the Tampa Bay Rays atop the American League standings. With 10 games remaining, the Orioles’ magic number is seven with the Rays losing to the visiting Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday night.
Second baseman Adam Frazier said taking two of three from the AL Central-leading Astros is a “big deal” coming off two emotional wins in Baltimore over the Rays, even though Wednesday’s loss feels “bitter” because the club was two innings away from a sweep.
“We know there’s a good chance we’ll see ‘em again in a couple weeks,” Frazier said. “But until then, we’ve got to finish strong.”
Bradish gearing up for playoffs
Bradish is hoping he sees the Astros again this season.
“Yeah, I mean, they’re probably going to be the No. 2 seed,” said Bradish, the top starting pitcher on the AL’s best team. “This was a good atmosphere. Their pitching staff, hitters, I mean, it’s a complete team. It was a good test today.”
The Astros’ vaunted lineup is a difficult matchup for any pitcher, but Bradish is making it look not so. Houston hitters are 6-for-70 (all singles) for a .086 batting average and .227 OPS against Bradish dating to last year, when he pitched eight scoreless in August and 8 2/3 scoreless in September against an Astros team that went on to win the World Series.
“He pitches well against good teams because he has big-time stuff,” Hyde said. “Everything was super sharp, and he’s really tough to hit.”
Bradish relied even more on his slider, his most-used offering, Wednesday than normal, throwing it 50 times out of 100 pitches versus a right-handed-heavy lineup. Thirteen of his 18 whiffs were on his slider, while four came on his curveball.
“It was probably the best it’s been the past few outings,” Bradish said.
He ran into trouble in the sixth when Jeremy Peña reached on catcher’s interference, tipping Adley Rutschman’s glove on a swing that would have been an inning-ending strikeout. But as Bradish neared 100 pitches, Hyde visited the mound and left his ace in to face AL RBI leader Kyle Tucker. The 27-year-old rewarded his skipper by getting Tucker to lineout to third on a check swing.
“It’s been fun to watch,” Frazier said of Bradish. “He’s mixing up four, five different pitches up there. They’re all hard, they’re all plus pitches. It makes it tough on opposing hitters, and I think he’s shown that throughout the season. We’re glad he’s on our side, and look forward to him taking the mound every time he does.”
Over his past 20 starts since late May, Bradish has a sparkling 2.60 ERA with 14 quality starts. His 3.01 ERA is sixth-best among qualified starters.
“I feel locked in,” he said. “I’ve kind of felt that way all year.”
Jacob Webb followed Bradish with a scoreless seventh — aided by two warning-track flyouts — before Fujinami’s poor eighth. The Japanese right-hander sandwiched a lineout between two walks. He had started to emerge as a trustworthy option by pounding the zone in his 12 outings before the Houston series, but Fujinami allowed three runs Monday and stumbled again Wednesday.
Hyde said outings like Wednesday’s are what worry him about throwing the volatile right-hander in high-leverage situations.
“It’s about throwing strikes with him. He was on a nice little roll there,” Hyde said. “Today, a lot of arm-side misses. Stuff’s good within the strike zone.”
Around the horn
- Hyde said before the game that Jack Flaherty would remain in the bullpen “as of right now.” Flaherty, the club’s top trade deadline acquisition, was moved from the rotation to the bullpen Tuesday. He’s struggled as a starter for Baltimore with a 7.11 ERA, but he pitched two scoreless innings in Tuesday’s 9-5 win.
- Closer Félix Bautista played catch multiple times during the three days in Houston, including a bullpen session before Wednesday’s game. Bautista on Sunday threw his first bullpen session since partially tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow in late August.
- The Orioles began the first of several offseason camps focused on weight training and skill development Wednesday at their facility in Sarasota, Florida, the team announced. Twenty-one players will participate in the camp, including prospects Samuel Basallo, Enrique Bradfield Jr., Mac Horvath, Seth Johnson, Creed Willems, Luis De León and Trace Bright, all of whom are ranked inside the system’s top 30 by Baseball America.
Orioles at Guardians
Thursday, 7:15 p.m.
TV: Chs. 45, 5
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM