August 10, 2022

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Get used to O's pitchers dealing at home

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BALTIMORE — For very little of Jordan Lyles’ outing on Sunday did it seem like he would finish it the way he did. His 101-pitch quality start at a rain-soaked Camden Yards was just the third thrown by an Oriole this season (the second this week), clinching a series victory over the Red Sox, 9-5.

But given how these Orioles have pitched at home this season, perhaps it should have been the expectation even when Lyles allowed seven baserunners through the first three innings. 

Baltimore starters own a 1.71 ERA at home this season, edging the Brewers for the best mark in the Majors, and doing so in a reimagined ballpark that just a year ago was among the most hitter-friendly. In 2021, the 277 homers hit in Baltimore led the Majors — by a margin of 27.

“We’ve been throwing it really well, especially here at home,” Lyles said. “Really good team over there. I know they haven’t had the start that they’ve wanted on their side. But pitching for us, we’ve been doing our jobs and doing really good. That hasn’t really fluctuated too much.”

You don’t need to scale a wall in order to see why — mostly because you can’t anymore. The new left-field dimensions certainly have played some factor in dropping the O’s home ERA. Through nine games, only seven home runs have been hit at Oriole Park — tied with Cleveland’s Progressive Field for the lowest mark in the Majors.

Just ask Anthony Santander, who would have assuredly hit a grand slam on Sunday had his fifth-inning sac fly occurred in 2021. Also Ryan Mountcastle, who on Friday was the first to conquer “Mount Baltimore,” as play-by-play voice Kevin Brown dubbed it.

“That’s one of the best balls I’ve ever hit,” Mountcastle said this weekend, “and it went about three rows deep.”

And maybe it’s a good thing. The Orioles are 7-6 in games they don’t hit a homer this season. Sunday was the first time they’ve won while homering (now 1-8 in such instances), thanks to Rougned Odor’s blast pacing a red-letter day for the offense.

Pitchers certainly don’t mind. Before being bitten by the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium this past week, Baltimore’s arms had conceded just 10 long balls on the year, at that point tied for the third fewest in baseball. (That number is now middle of the pack, at 20.)

Lyles might be most appreciative of anyone. Entering Sunday, he had conceded 42 homers since the start of the 2021 season, four more than Nats lefty Patrick Corbin sitting second in line. Lyles was tagged for three dingers in New York on Tuesday alone.

By pure stature, without John Means on the active roster, Lyles has led this crop of pitchers through the season’s first month — and thereby the boon of home success. He’s allowed just two runs (and zero home runs) at home compared to 11 runs (and four home runs) on the road. 

He hasn’t yet had to worry about the threat of Camden Yards’ left field despite his past experience here, mostly because he hasn’t conceded much contact in that direction. But even if he does, he feels a new sense of comfort

“It’s way out there,” Lyles laughed. “Just visiting from years past, more balls — it’ll even out. … But, um, it’s deep out there. You notice it during BP. … It’s playing big, it looks big.”

At some point, and especially when the historically muggy mid-Atlantic lives up to its name in the summer months, numbers will likely start to normalize. The Orioles acknowledge that. In making changes to the wall, they were looking to level out the playing surface, not jerk the tendencies so far in the direction of pitchers.

But until then, the O’s will take their gaudy home ERA with what it means more significantly: a record above .500 in Baltimore.

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