BOSTON -- The last time the Orioles were in Boston, a few things were different. For one, it was 37 degrees at Fenway Park on Opening Day (April 2), compared to 81 degrees at first pitch in Friday’s series opener against the Red Sox.
The other was Baltimore’s rotation. The O’s starters allowed a combined five runs over the early-season three-game series, with John Means throwing seven shutout innings on Opening Day.
Fast forward four months, and the weather isn’t the only thing that has changed. The Orioles’ rotation has compiled a 5.99 ERA, the worst mark in the Majors. On Friday night, O’s starter Spenser Watkins surrendered six runs -- including a high homer to Xander Bogaerts -- with three walks and one strikeout across four innings in Baltimore’s 8-1 loss at Fenway Park.
Watkins made his Major League debut on July 2 in Anaheim, pitching one inning of relief. In Friday’s outing, his first against Boston, Watkins relied heavily on his fastball, which topped out at 92.7 mph and averaged 90.4. The right-hander threw the fastball for 36 of his 87 pitches (41 percent), and he got no whiffs on 10 swings at the heater.
“I just thought tonight he was behind in the count [for] almost the entire outing,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Tough to pitch behind in the count to this lineup, you know, he just wasn’t throwing enough strikes. … Pretty good hitters over here, can’t be in hitter’s counts all night long, and [he] had a tough time getting ahead of guys.”
Facing the meat of the order in the fourth inning, Watkins fell behind 3-1 to Alex Verdugo before the Red Sox outfielder grounded out to Trey Mancini. The next batter, Bogaerts, homered on a 2-0 fastball. Before Rafael Devers grounded out to end the frame, Watkins threw three balls to the third baseman before recording a strike.
Though the thermostat read 81 degrees at first pitch, the feel-like temperature was considerably higher, with a high humidity that made Fenway Park feel more like a sauna than a ballpark.
“I wouldn’t even say it was the lineup, I thought it was more so just kind of battling myself,” said Watkins. “I was battling, sweating and trying to find a grip on the ball, and I need to do a better job of just overcoming and executing. … The lineup is one through nine just like any other lineup is. So for me, it’s just sticking to my guns and continuing to attack, not allowing something like sweat or things like that to creep in and get me off my focus.”
Unfortunately for the Orioles, their pitching woes don’t stop at the rotation. The bad news? Baltimore’s bullpen also ranks near the bottom of the Majors with a 5.29 ERA. The good news? The club reinstated both righty Tyler Wells and lefty Tanner Scott from the injured list over the past week, adding two of the more reliable arms back to a ‘pen in need of assistance.
Friday’s loss extended the Orioles' skid to nine games, during which the club has allowed 82 runs on 106 hits. The stretch started Aug. 3 with a loss to the Yankees in the Bronx and was extended with sweeps by the Rays and Tigers. Baltimore’s best chances came on Aug. 4 vs. New York and Aug. 6 vs. Tampa Bay, but a late five-run inning derailed the club in both instances.
“We’re playing better teams,” Hyde said of the team’s recent skid after a promising start to the second half. “And we’ve got to be able to match the intensity of a team in a pennant race. And, you know … we gave away a couple of games against Tampa [Bay], gave away a game against New York and didn’t play too well against Detroit, and now we’re playing Boston in Fenway. They added at the Deadline, and they’re trying to get to the postseason, and we have to be able to play relaxed and play with nothing to lose. And tonight we just got beat.”
Despite the negative results, Watkins is confident in the team around him.
“Anytime you run into a bit of a skid, you know, it’s tough,” Watkins said. “But we have a good group of guys, a good core of veterans that keep the emotions in check and keep the guys on the right path, you know, always looking forward. … It is what it is, it sucks of course, but we’ve got the right group to continue to move forward.”