For all the improvement the Orioles have witnessed in the batter’s box and on the mound in 2020, one area in particular that has lagged behind as this 60-game season sprinted toward its conclusion: the defense. Despite bright spots like Cedric Mullins in center field and José Iglesias when healthy at short, the Orioles, as a whole, rank among the bottom third in the American League by several defensive metrics.
Those warts surfaced often in Tuesday’s 8-3 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park, where three errors and other assorted misplays sent the Orioles to their 11th loss in 14 tries. The defeat eliminated Baltimore from postseason contention.
“We’ve got to catch the ball,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “You have to be able to play defense in this league and you have to be able to make the routine play.”
After spotting Keegan Akin an early lead, the defensive issues began behind the rookie left-hander in what turned into a 32-pitch second inning. Rio Ruiz threw away Christian Vázquez’s leadoff grounder to set up Boston’s first run, then DJ Stewart flubbed Alex Verdugo’s short fly in left to stretch Boston’s lead to two. Ramón Urías committed an error in the fifth, and Paul Fry’s wild pitch was a key play in the Red Sox’s four-run sixth, when Boston blew the game open on Vázquez’s three-run homer.
One result was an abbreviated outing for Akin, who struck out six across four inefficient innings. Another was a sizeable hole for their struggling offense, which only roared back to life on the heels of two Michael Chavis misplays after winning pitcher Nick Pivetta exited. The effort gave the O’s 35 errors in 55 games, fifth worst among AL clubs. It also made Akin likely to get another start in Sunday’s season finale, as the Orioles would like to see him finish 2020 on a high note.
“You never want to have a long inning, so it’s tough,” Akin said. “You try to make the most out of it, get out of it as quick as you can and minimize the damage.”
So far, Akin is 1-2 with a 2.79 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings across his first five MLB starts. He’s had three very strong outings and two challenging ones; in both, he was hurt considerably by his defense.
“We didn’t play very good defense, and that really hurt him,” Hyde said. “I think he’s just going to get better and better. There this wasn’t his best start, but I thought he was really competitive, and we didn’t help him out behind him.”
Phillips leave with injury
Things had been going smoothly for Evan Phillips heading into Tuesday’s contest. Now his future appears in jeopardy.
Phillips was removed from Tuesday’s loss with an elbow injury after throwing his 17th pitch of the outing, grimacing in pain as he walked off the field with members of the Orioles’ medical staff. Hyde said that Phillips, who has a history of elbow trouble, will be re-evaluated on Wednesday. But it’s safe to assume the righty’s 2020 season is over.
It was also an unfortunate end to Phillips’ roughest outing in some time. Phillips seemed to have turned a corner lately, going unscored upon over his past nine appearances and having struck out eight in 3 1/3 innings over his last two outings. Called on to snuff out a one-on, two-out threat in the sixth on Tuesday, Phillips walked Xander Bogaerts, allowed an RBI single to J.D. Martinez and then surrendered Vázquez’s game-breaking homer.
All told, Phillips finished 2020 with a 5.02 ERA in 14 appearances.