ST. PETERSBURG — One day, the Orioles will find a way to again beat the Rays. Sunday was not that day.
The Orioles were defeated, 8-0, at Tropicana Field and must quickly seek to reverse their fortunes from the season-opening three-game sweep, which included a 2-for-24 performance with runners in scoring position and 37 strikeouts. That set a club record for whiffs by Baltimore batters through the first three games.
“This is a tough way to start the season,’’ Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said.
It was also what we have to come to expect from an Orioles-Rays game. Baltimore has dropped 15 straight games to Tampa Bay, the Majors’ second-longest active streak behind the Dodgers’ 16 straight wins over the Pirates.
Overall, the Orioles have lost 21 of their last 22 games to the Rays since the start of last season (and 26 of their last 28, dating to the COVID-shortened 2020 season).
“It’s a tough lineup, and they were the AL East champions last season,’’ said Orioles right-hander Tyler Wells, who made his first Major League start but got knocked from the game with two outs in the second inning after surrendering a two-run homer to Brandon Lowe that made it 4-0. Wells got to strike two on the inning’s first four batters, but he ended up surrendering two walks, one single and one sacrifice fly to ignite the Rays’ big inning.
“That’s just baseball,’’ Wells said. “Some days, it goes your way. Some days, it doesn’t.’’
When Wells saw second-inning trouble, right-hander Dean Kremer, a possibility to start Tuesday at home against the Brewers, began working in the bullpen. After one of his last warmup pitches, Kremer sat back down. According to Hyde, Kremer suffered a left oblique strain and could be a candidate for the injured list.
“We had to make it into a bullpen game, which was difficult,’’ Hyde said. “You don’t want one of your guys you need to give you innings get hurt in the bullpen before he goes into the game.’’
But that’s typical of the Orioles’ woes — especially when facing the Rays.
The Orioles had only flashes of opportunity against the Rays, who utilized five pitchers. Anthony Santander (fifth inning) and Ryan Mountcastle (seventh) each came up with two runners on base. But both hit drives that were flagged down on the center-field warning track.
“When the pitching staff does what they did in the first two games of the series [when the Rays prevailed 2-1 and 5-3] and gives us a chance, we’ve got to come through,’’ Orioles right fielder Austin Hays said. “That’s the name of the game. When you pitch well, you’ve got to get that big hit. When you’re not pitching well, you’ve got to grind it out on offense and put runs on the board for your pitching staff.
“We just haven’t been able to do both at the same time the last two years. We need to turn that around. We need to get firing on all cylinders when we play these guys.’’
Last season, the Orioles were 1-18 against the Rays. (Last July 19 — if you’re asking — the Orioles won 6-1 behind Spenser Watkins.) And that was part of a 52-110 last-place finish.
“Honestly, it’s just a focus on each and every one of us to get better,’’ Wells said. “Right now, the end result is the least of our concerns. We’re just three games into the season, and that’s never going to tell the full picture.
“I think there’s so much more to this team than what happened last year. We have a good group of guys. Three games into the season, there really isn’t anything we can tell other than trying to work on bettering ourselves.’’
Sunday, the Orioles’ positive was 6-foot-5 right-hander Félix Bautista, who followed Wells and made his Major League debut. He struck out Wander Franco to end the second inning, then fanned Randy Arozarena to begin the third. Overall, Bautista induced 10 swings and five whiffs on five batters. His fastball reached 99 mph. Bautista retrieved the Franco strikeout ball and will one day present it to his mother, Polonia, who was celebrating her birthday Sunday in the Dominican Republic.
Bautista’s effort, though, wasn’t nearly enough.
“As much as people are going to say the Orioles aren’t a good team, they’re a very good team,’’ Lowe said. “They can hit the ball. They have guys on the team who can really swing it. For them [the Rays’ pitching staff] to come out and do what they did, it’s pretty impressive.’’