Opening series highlights areas to 'clean up' for O's

Despite scoring 23 runs in first three games, Baltimore struggled on the mound, defensively

April 2nd, 2023

BOSTON -- The Orioles’ 2023 season was only two games old when manager Brandon Hyde was fielding a question early Sunday afternoon about the importance of getting a long outing from his starting pitcher to take some pressure off his bullpen in the series finale at Fenway Park.

“Third game of the year, and we’re already talking about [that],” Hyde said. “But the way these games have gone, that’s just what happens. You play these types of games, people get a little worn out. So to have a starter go out and give us some innings today, that’d be huge.”

That’s not what happened, though.

Cole Irvin labored early in his Baltimore debut, lasting only four-plus innings and allowing six earned runs in a 9-5 defeat. After an Opening Day win on Thursday, the Orioles lost two straight to drop their season-opening series vs. the Red Sox.

Boston scored nine runs in every game of the set. It’s the first time Baltimore has allowed that many runs in each of its first three games of a season since 1978, when it gave up 11, 16 and 13 runs to Milwaukee. The most recent AL/NL team to allow nine-plus runs in three straight contests to open a year had been the 2005 Rockies.

The O’s rotation ERA is up to 11.25. Kyle Gibson allowed four earned runs in five-plus innings on Opening Day, then Dean Kremer yielded five in three frames on Saturday. Irvin wasn’t putting added pressure on himself to deliver a long outing on Sunday, though. He didn’t try to think about how much it could help the club if he went at least six or seven innings.

“Every game I start, I intend to finish,” Irvin said. “That’s my mentality, that’s my philosophy, I believe it. I believe I can do it. But today, they just put some good at-bats together, some long ABs early.”

Irvin needed 32 pitches to get through the first inning. The left-hander allowed the first three Boston batters to reach base, then gave up a run on a Masataka Yoshida groundout. But Irvin stranded a trio of baserunners by punching out Christian Arroyo to escape the frame.

However, the Red Sox added a run in the second on Kiké Hernández’s leadoff homer, and another in the third on Alex Verdugo’s RBI single. Irvin’s day ended after he gave up three straight singles to open the fifth, when Boston plated three runs and extended its lead to 6-3.

Again, the Orioles needed their bullpen to cover a sizable portion of the game, as Bryan Baker, Keegan Akin and Mike Baumann combined to pitch the final four innings.

Despite the rotation not getting off to the best start -- including both Gibson and Irvin, two of Baltimore’s most notable offseason acquisitions -- others remain confident the unit will get on track soon enough.

“Oh yeah, they’re way better,” said center fielder Cedric Mullins, who homered and drove in three runs Sunday. “I know those guys work hard. It’s just one of those things where today they had a good amount of soft hits right over the infield, and it hurt us. But I know that coming in the near future, they’ll be able to lock it in, put some zeroes on the board.”

The Orioles impressed offensively during the opening set, as they totaled 23 runs. But their defense didn’t make things easier on their pitching staff.

Baltimore committed its fourth error of the series in the fifth inning of the finale. Terrin Vavra and Gunnar Henderson miscommunicated in shallow left field, allowing a ball to drop in. Henderson was charged with the error, which allowed Verdugo to reach base.

The O’s also would be leaving Boston with a series win if Ryan McKenna had caught a routine fly ball with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning on Saturday night.

So there are some areas of its game Baltimore needs to “clean up” -- as Mullins put it -- as it heads to Texas to take on the Rangers in a three-game series that begins Monday night. Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells will take the mound for their 2023 debuts over the first two contests, with Gibson set to follow in the finale.

In order to fare better on the second leg of the season-opening road trip than they did the first, Hyde knows the Orioles must play more complete games.

“We swung the bat well enough to [win], but we’ve got to pitch and play defense, and we didn’t have our best series on the mound or defensively,” Hyde said. “Those are two things we’ve got to do better to win series in this league.”