OAKLAND — A day removed from a dynamic eighth inning that catapulted the Orioles to an emotional win over their rival Yankees, an equally deflating frame sunk them from something more important: momentum.
The Orioles committed a pair of fateful errors that allowed Monday’s series opener against the A’s to fizzle from a pitcher’s duel into a 5-1 loss at the Coliseum. Had Ramón Urías’ errant throw played out differently, he could have sent the game into the final few innings tied. And had Rougned Odor’s bobble three batters later not occurred, the O’s would have kept themselves within striking distance.
Instead, the highs of a series win over New York and the impressive nature of Spenser Watkins’ second start were dashed succinctly by Baltimore — much by its own doing
“We just made a couple of mistakes there that cost us,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “That’s going to happen, we’re going to make errors. We’re having a tough time covering up offensively a little bit right now.”
Hyde spoke pregame about the importance of carrying over the momentum from Sunday afternoon, when three consecutive two-out hits built off one another to break a scoreless tie in the eighth and sent the O’s to victory. Given the dearth of comfort the O’s offense has been able to provide for the pitching — which has constantly kept the club within reach with a top-tier staff ERA — the margins have been razor thin.
Though the O’s find themselves in last place in the AL East in the early goings of this 2022 season, they’ve lost by five or more runs just once, entering Monday with a respectable -9 run differential.
And Monday was supposed to present an opportunity for a step forward, this Orioles club beginning its first matchup against a team that didn’t make the postseason in 2021. But razor-thin margins — not to mention the pair of errors and getting thrown out at the plate twice — can only hold for so long.
“We’re playing a lot of close games, so every play matters,” Hyde said. “It’d be nice to get some breathing room, make up for an error or two. But we’re pitching extremely well and staying in the game.”
Pitching remains airtight
Doubly deflating how the Orioles fell on Monday is that it came on the heels of a solid outing for Watkins, all of a sudden an important innings-eater in this Orioles rotation following the injury to John Means.
At first glance, Watkins didn’t portend five quality innings he ultimately provided. But working past an 18-pitch first inning came a string of eight straight A’s retired from the second through the first — a span that required just 21 pitches.
“There’s a comfortable aspect,” Watkins said. “Once I found that rhythm I didn’t have to do so much thinking … just get my pitch and rip it.”
And aiding Watkins’ progression was the uptick in velocity he found, an increase of 1.2 mph on his yearly average. He’s not sure exactly where it came from — likely just a progression of his offseason build-up hitting the regular season — but it’s a welcome sign nonetheless, given his importance in a Means-less rotation.
“I’m gonna take the ball whenever they want to give it to me and I’m gonna compete,” Watkins said, “so whenever they decide I’m ready to take the ball, I’m in.”
Even after him, Joey Krehbiel continued what had the makings of a fortuitous night for O’s pitching. With all four sixth-inning runs of the unearned variety, Baltimore owns a staff-wide 2.86 ERA through 10 games, good enough for fifth in the Majors (and worse than only the Yankees, Dodgers, Mets and Giants).
And to make matters even sweeter, bookending the game with Watkins was Keegan Akin, who twirled a pair of scoreless frames, throwing 20 of his 25 pitches for strikes. In three outings so far this season, he’s thrown 72 of his 91 pitches for strikes. He’s yet to allow a run in 7 2/3 innings.
“Really good tempo out of the ’pen,” Hyde said of Akin’s promise. “Attacking hitters, fastball is getting better, slider has improved as well. He’s throwing the ball extremely well, attacking guys in the strike zone.”