BALTIMORE -- When the Orioles removed Mychal Givens from the closer role earlier this week, they did so under an assumption, and some hope. In a perfect world, allowing Givens a chance to sort through his issues in lower-leverage situations would result in a return to form, the thought being that he’d be back handling the ninth in short order.
But that is not a reality manager Brandon Hyde is afforded, given the nature of the rest of his bullpen. So limited are Hyde’s options that he found himself deviating from that plan Wednesday, tasking Givens to get at least four outs with the Orioles cradling a one-run lead against the Tigers -- two innings earlier than usual, but a high-leverage situation nonetheless.
What transpired has the Orioles and Givens scratching their collective heads. After plowing through the heart of the Tigers' order in a 1-2-3 seventh, Givens allowed a game-tying solo home run to Jason Hicks to lead off the eighth. Rookie Branden Kline surrendered a go-ahead two-run homer to Brandon Dixon in the ninth, sending the Orioles to a 4-2 defeat at Camden Yards.
The result spoiled another excellent effort from John Means and wasted Baltimore’s best chance at securing a series win in more than a month.
“It’s a disappointing loss,” Hyde said. “We’ve just had a tough time getting through the last couple innings. We need guys to step up.”
Until then, Hyde said he’ll continue to lean on Givens, who has now allowed nine earned runs over his past five appearances, his ERA ballooning from 2.75 to 5.70 over that stretch. Givens’ six homers allowed are two more than his total from a year ago, in 49 fewer games.
“I am going to keep throwing him out there,” Hyde said. “That seventh was dominating. That’s the stuff we’re looking for from him on a nightly basis. He isn’t going to be perfect. Just made a bad pitch to Hicks.”
But one bad pitch was enough to erase the work of Means, who compiled a career-high seven strikeouts over six innings of one-run ball.
The rookie southpaw should qualify for the ERA title in his next start, and when he does, his 2.80 mark will rank among the best in the American League. He left with a lead thanks to a run-scoring double from Renato Nunez and a solo homer from Keon Broxton, allowing little more than a Nicholas Castellanos RBI double in the fourth.
"He was mean,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I mean, he had good stuff, a great changeup. He's got a great changeup that he can go to just about any time he wants. He's got a great motion. I think he can throw the ball 93 with a good angle and a nice breaking ball, too. Very competitive, he works very fast, which I love that part of it. He kept us off-balance, didn't make too many mistakes."
That Hyde let Means face Castellanos with two outs and the tying run at second in the sixth -- his pitch count at 99 and Givens warming -- spoke to how far Means has come in a span of weeks. Means then affirmed his manager’s faith: using a show-me heater and three changeups to get Castellanos to pop harmlessly to center, clinching the southpaw’s third quality start this month.
But what happened next underscored how much of a puzzle wading through the late innings continues to be for Hyde, who must roll the dice on a near-nightly basis.
“Our numbers aren’t real good out of the ‘pen, so it’s been a tough deal,” Hyde said. “For the first two months, I just wanted to get the ball to [Givens]. Now I wanted to give him a step back, give someone else an opportunity. It just didn’t work out.”