July 5, 2022

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O's excelling in one surprising category so far in 2022

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OAKLAND — One rotation boasts multiple Cy Young Award winners (when fully healthy). The next, a World Series MVP. Two more Cy Youngs inhabit rotations Nos. 3 and 4, and the last has multiple past entrants to the All-Star Game — with more likely in the future.

Those rotations, in order by ERA, are the Mets, the D-backs, the Dodgers, the White Sox and the Giants.

And the one after them? That’d be the Baltimore Orioles.

Chris Ellis was the latest O’s starter to make zeros a habit, called up to start Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the A’s at the Oakland Coliseum. His 4 1/3 shutout frames moved the Orioles’ rotation, a crop of waiver claims and question marks just weeks ago, into sixth place in the Majors — and second in the AL — with a 2.98 ERA through 11 games.

1. Mets: 1.56
2. D-backs: 2.53
3. Dodgers: 2.60
4. White Sox: 2.68
5. Giants: 2.86
6. Orioles: 2.98

“No, not at all, man,” Ellis said. “We have some dogs out there in the starting rotation, so I’m just trying to … do what those guys are doing. We got some guys with some good stuff up here, so I’m just trying to fit in.”

It’s not that Baltimore doesn’t possess an All-Star. That’d be John Means, though much in the past week has been accomplished without him, and much going forward will need to be, especially. The left-hander is on a long road back from a left elbow injury that has him on the 60-day injured list.

But in recent history, and especially since Means went down, the results are even more favorable:

• A 1.30 ERA over the last eight games
• One earned run or fewer in seven of the last eight games
• Two earned runs over the last five games (0.76 ERA) since Means’ injury

“We’re throwing the ball great,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “Our bullpen has done a great job of coming in, throwing strikes. Our starters have given us an opportunity to stay in the game and putting zeros up when the game starts.”

Where Means has been absent, a cast of misfits has stepped right up. On Friday, it was Jordan Lyles’ best outing as an Oriole to date. Following him were shutout appearances from Tyler Wells on Saturday, Bruce Zimmermann on Sunday (did you know he has nine scoreless frames to start the season?) and Ellis on Tuesday. Sandwiching them was Spenser Watkins’ gritty one-run outing on Monday.

“I watched Spenser shove last night, so I kind of took some notes from him, or at least tried to,” Ellis said. “Tried to make some good pitches and mix up some pitches and leave us in a place to win a game.”

Now, there may be some cause for caution. Heading into play Tuesday, the rotation’s FIP stood at 3.85 (almost a difference of 0.90 compared to ERA), which is 13th in the Majors and tends to suggest a bit of luck at play. The rotation’s 15.9 strikeout rate is also the bottom tier in the Majors, and an 8.6 percent swinging strikeout rate ranks 19th, which means bats aren’t being missed as much. (Things trend better with the bullpen.)

But there are underlying positives to glean, too. The rotation’s 23.8 percent hard-hit rate is the second-best in the Majors and best in the AL — and that’s a wholly important number in this era of baseball.

On the other side of things, Orioles hitters aren’t finding any such luck themselves despite scorching the ball. The offense has yet to surpass five runs in a game this season. On Tuesday, the Orioles’ lineup ripped 10 balls in play with exit velocities over 100 mph.

Only three fell for hits.

“I’m really happy with our pitching right now,” Hyde said. “Offensively, we’re slow out of the gate, but I think we’re going to pick it up.

“Hopefully we can combine the two.”

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