Mateo continues to shine with 3-run HR in series opener

May 24th, 2024

CHICAGO -- The Orioles’ decision to send Jackson Holliday back down to Triple-A Norfolk for more seasoning on April 26 created an everyday opening at second base in Baltimore’s lineup. Jorge Mateo has received a bulk of the starts there since, and he’s been leaving an impression along the way.

"Tough to take him out of the lineup right now with what he’s doing,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said earlier this week.

Mateo had a big impact Thursday in the Orioles’ 8-6 series-opening win over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. The 28-year-old went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks, two runs, a stolen base and a go-ahead three-run homer. That fourth-inning blast snapped a 2-2 tie.

The White Sox rallied to trim the Orioles’ 8-2 lead to just two in the ninth inning, before the game ended with some confusion. With two runners on and one out, the infield fly rule was called on an Andrew Benintendi popup to shortstop Gunnar Henderson, which would have been the second out of the inning.

But interference was also called on Andrew Vaughn, the runner on second base, which ended the game. According to Rule 6:01(a), the runner can be ruled out for hindering a fielder trying to make a play on a batted ball whether it was intentional or not.

“I saw the umpire point right to the runner with the interference call,” said Hyde, who had not yet gotten an explanation from the umpiring crew by the time he met the media postgame. “But with the infield fly, I think there’s a lot of confusion about it. Felt like we escaped there”

Mateo, whose big swing helped set the Orioles in motion before the eventful ending, drew the start at second base. He had some experience moving around the diamond the past three seasons, when he played every position but catcher and first base. But the majority of his playing time in an O's uniform had come at shortstop, including 2,100 1/3 innings combined since 2022.

On a team brimming with young talent, including star shortstop Gunnar Henderson, Baltimore prepared Mateo this Spring Training for a potential super-utility role. In April, he made 11 appearances at second and three in center field.

Holliday made his Major League debut on April 10 and started 10 of Baltimore’s next 13 games, all at second base. Since the 20-year-old was optioned back to Norfolk, Mateo has not only played second almost exclusively, but also has assumed the everyday role. He’s started there in 11 of the Orioles’ past 12 games, dating back to May 8.

Over his past seven games, Mateo is hitting .318 (7-for-22) with four stolen bases.

“He’s playing so well,” Hyde said after the win. “I’ve been saying it a lot. In most of his starts, he’s contributing at least a run a game just by himself, by either getting a hit and stealing two bases, or a walk and making things happen. Tonight he hits a big homer. He’s playing great baseball right now, defensively too. Hopefully he can keep it going.”

Mateo drew a walk in the second inning and stole second base, aiding an Orioles rally. In the fourth, he stepped up with two runners on and two outs. Teammate Anthony Santander led off the inning with a solo homer, and Baltimore was threatening for more.

Between those plate appearances, Santander and Mateo shared some observations about White Sox starter Mike Clevinger in a dugout conversation.

“We were talking about how his heater was sinking a little bit today,” Mateo said. “It wasn't going as straight as usual, so I was trying to sit on that sinker a little bit.”

Mateo fouled off a 1-2 four-seam fastball from Clevinger, who then actually threw him a cutter on the inner half. Nevertheless, Mateo hit it a Statcast-projected 434 feet for a three-run blast, the longest homer of his career.

“Truthfully, I feel really good,” Mateo said through interpreter Brandon Quinones. “I feel really good because I'm able to go out there and contribute and help the team win. As long as I'm able to do that, I think I'm gonna be happy.”

Orioles right-hander Grayson Rodriguez got off to a shaky start Thursday, walking in a run in a 30-pitch first inning. He issued a two-out walk in the third, hit a batter and allowed an RBI single.

After Mateo’s homer, Rodriguez finished his outing with two scoreless innings, allowing just two walks. He struck out seven and surrendered two runs in five innings, with three hits and five free passes.

“He’s been phenomenal,” Rodriguez said of Mateo. “Obviously swinging the bat very well at the plate. Anytime he gets up, I think everyone’s on the edge of their seat, waiting to see what happens.”