By the time the Orioles boarded their short flight to Chicago on Wednesday evening, they were deeper in the thralls of perhaps the most challenging stretch of their rebuild to date. Losers of nine straight after Wednesday afternoon’s 3-2 defeat to the Twins at Target Field, the O’s have now dropped 16 of 18 in the three weeks since John Means’ no-hitter and have seen their record devolve from a game below .500 to the worst in baseball over that stretch.
The culprit? Collective struggles sparing few corners of the roster, from any starter not named Means to Baltimore’s suddenly combustible bullpen to its start-and-stop offense outside of Trey Mancini. Wednesday’s defeat followed a similar script in that regard, with the Orioles getting little more than Mancini’s first-inning solo homer behind Jorge López, who strung together five scoreless innings before giving up Miguel Sanó's go-ahead three-run homer in the sixth.
Hours earlier, O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias took to Zoom to address the local media, largely preaching patience in a 21-minute call with reporters. Though the O’s made some moves Wednesday and have another planned for Thursday, no large-scale changes appear imminent.
“We are remaining on target with what we’re trying to do,” Elias said. “Which is build for a sustainable, competitive playoff-caliber future for this organization for a long time so we do not have to undergo a process this traumatic ever again.”
Here are more of his comments on a variety of Orioles topics:
Topic: Struggling prospects
The Orioles were pleased with early performances from Ryan Mountcastle, Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin and others in 2020. But they’ve all taken a step backward this season, or at least struggled to repeat their performances from last season. Mountcastle is hitting .228 with a .612 OPS and is now dealing with an injured left hand. Kremer was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday after going 0-5 with a 6.87 ERA in 10 starts. Akin will replace him in the rotation after not making the team out of Spring Training and then injuring his left index finger with a kitchen knife. Rookie southpaw Bruce Zimmermann has a 5.59 ERA. Tanner Scott has seen his walk rate skyrocket from 11.6 percent in 2020 to 19.5 percent.
"This is a group of players that we believe in. I know that things will improve, get back in a positive direction at some point. We continue to grind through it. But it's most important we remain steadfast on our organizational goals right now.
“It's frustrating to see that. But it's more often than not that there are ups and downs with young players. … So we're understanding of that. But yeah, we've got to put the work in, and we've got to put them in positions to improve. And if we feel at any time that someone is overwhelmed, that their development will better benefit from being in Norfolk rather than being in the Major League environment, we will do that. But suffice to say that, you know, as guys are on the Major League roster, they're there because we want them to be there. We see better performances on the horizon for a lot of these guys.”
Topic: Chris Holt’s absence
Orioles director of pitching/pitch coaching Holt has been away from the team on personal leave for multiple weeks. In that time, the O’s have watched their staff devolve into the Majors’ worst in May, the struggles permeating the rotation and the bullpen alike. Elias did not commit to a return date for Holt when asked Wednesday.
“I'm hoping [he’s back] soon. This isn't a planned thing. Life happens, and we accommodate people when that happens. He's obviously very committed to this team, so it's very important, to say the least, that he is where he is. Hopefully, he'll be back soon. He's been working very hard remotely and staying plugged in. But we have a great pitching coach in Darren Holmes, who's been keeping things going. But we have two pitching coaches on the staff for a reason, and it'll be nice to get Chris back soon.”
Topic: The rebuild as a whole
The Orioles finished with the Majors’ second-worst record in 2019, tied for the fifth worst in 2020 and had baseball’s worst record entering play Wednesday. Their current tumble rivals the rebuild’s toughest stretches, when they lost 14 of 16 in June 2019 and 15 of 18 in August 2019.
“I don't think anyone's happy about the win-loss record. We haven't been since we've been there. But it's very important for us to remain focused and committed. Overreacting, briefly, to struggles from young players, making rash roster decisions with guys that have bright futures, is not in our long-term nor short-term best interest. We remain committed and focused and working hard every day of what we do and understand that baseball can be like this, especially when you're going through what we're going through. And the players themselves have the same approach and know that the hits will start to fall or they will get into a groove on the mound. And we wait for that to happen. We see talent here, and we want to continue supporting these players and allow them to develop and get better.”
Topic: The fans
There was enthusiasm for the rebuild when Elias was hired in late 2018, but there is growing frustration as progress remains limited at the big league level.
“It's very painful. We follow this team as well, on a night in and night out basis. We're living it. We understand the length of losing that this fan base has gone through dating back to 2017. This is a long time. But we have a lot of systemic-level work that has needed to be done. …
“There's a lot to look forward to, we're doing things the right way, and doing them in a way that will set us up for a long time. So that hopefully, we can be amongst those organizations that are able to avoid going through processes like this. And it is possible, and it's difficult. But you got to get to that level first. And that's what we're doing right now. It's hard work. It doesn't go perfectly yet. You have some good luck. Yes, bad luck. But our sleeves are rolled up, and we're grinding through it. And we're gonna start seeing results eventually. I'm very confident of that.”