The Orioles’ struggles against left-handed pitchers have stumped manager Brandon Hyde. For much of his tenure, Baltimore’s roster has been largely right-handed, meaning his club would have the platoon advantage in those matchups.
“I feel like in the past few years,” Hyde said, “that was our best shot.”
That led to a reshuffled lineup Tuesday as the Orioles tried to break out of those troubles. Rookie sensation Gunnar Henderson, the club’s lone consistent offensive force since he was promoted on the last day of August, landed in the leadoff spot, with the 21-year-old becoming the youngest major leaguer to start atop a lineup since San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. in 2019 and youngest Oriole to do so since Manny Machado in 2013.
“We’re just giving it a try,” Hyde said before the game. “I’d like to see him be at the top of the order to get as many at-bats as possible.”
It proved a sound strategy. Henderson’s single in the third inning off Detroit’s Joey Wentz prevented a Tigers left-hander from taking a no-hit bid into the late innings for a second straight night. In the seventh, his two-run home run off right-hander Joe Jiménez, his first at Camden Yards, spoiled the Tigers’ pursuit of consecutive shutouts. But as has been the case for much of Henderson’s time in the majors, the Baltimore lineup around him failed to produce.
With a 3-2 defeat, the Orioles ensured a series loss to a Tigers team at the bottom of the American League Central and risked moving as many as 5 1/2 games back of an AL wild-card spot with 15 games left in their season, pending the Seattle Mariners’ result late Tuesday. Detroit is 5-0 against the Orioles and 52-91 against everyone else. Baltimore has lost 10 of its past 15 games.
“It’s a seven-month season when you’re good, and we’re five and a half months into this right now, and we need to learn to push through,” Hyde said. “But I want to believe we’re going to grind through this, and they need to learn how to, and this is part of being a big leaguer.”
All five of the Orioles’ runs against the Tigers this year have come off home runs, with Trey Mancini, now a member of the AL West champion Houston Astros after an August trade, hitting two in a May sweep in Detroit. Henderson’s home run, the Orioles’ first sign of life in the series after Tyler Alexander kept them hitless into the seventh Monday, gave him 14 RBIs since joining the team Aug. 31. The team has scored 67 in that time, meaning Henderson has driven in more than a fifth of its runs. An infielder who ranked as the game’s top prospect when he was promoted, Henderson is hitting .319 with a .938 OPS in his first 19 games.
“From a young age, this is what I wanted to do,” Henderson said. “When I got here, there was no pressure. Just trying to help the team win. I felt like that takes all the pressure off because you’re just trying to do one goal.”
But even Henderson was not impervious to the struggles with runners in scoring position that have plagued the Orioles (76-71) this month. Baltimore went 0-for-4 in those situations Tuesday, with Henderson’s fifth-inning groundout being the lone at-bat without a strikeout, and is hitting .205 in them in September.
“We’re trying our hardest,” Henderson said. “We’re being pitched well and facing tough teams. They’re in a playoff race, too, outside of Detroit and Boston, but we’ve been playing teams pretty hard. It just ain’t going our way yet.”
The Tigers (57-91) didn’t need a hit with a runner in scoring position for their victory, with Akil Baddoo’s two-run homer in the third off Austin Voth and Kerry Carpenter’s seventh-inning solo shot off Joey Krehbiel providing their offense. Baddoo came close to one in the top of the ninth, but a ranging catch from shortstop Jorge Mateo on a flare with an expected batting average of .900 ended the frame with two runners on and kept Baltimore’s deficit at one. The play was only part of a strong defensive night for Baltimore. In the fifth, a clean relay from right fielder Anthony Santander, second baseman Ramón Urías and catcher Adley Rutschman prevented a Baddoo double from producing a run. For the frame’s final out, Rutschman and Henderson, playing third, nearly collided in foul territory on a popup, with the ball popping out of Rutschman’s glove before he lunged to make the catch.
Ryan Mountcastle supplied some hope with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with a drive to right field, but as the Orioles did, it came up short, leaving their playoff hopes in dire position. Inside the clubhouse, there’s still hope.
“Why not us?” Voth said. “If we come to the ballpark and play the way we know we can, I’mma bet on us.”
Around the horn
- Hyde said the Orioles have had no discussions about shutting down right-hander Tyler Wells. The 28-year-old has thrown 103 2/3 innings in his first season as a major league starter after pitching only 57 innings from 2019 to 2021 because of Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, the coronavirus pandemic’s cancellation of the 2020 minor league season and his use as a reliever last season.
- Infielder Connor Norby, the Orioles’ No. 12 prospect according to Baseball America, was promoted to Triple-A Norfolk. Baltimore’s second-round pick in 2021, Norby went 3-for-5 and homered on the first pitch he saw, tying new teammate Jordan Westburg for the minor league system lead with 26.
- High-A Aberdeen beat Bowling Green, 13-6, in the second game of the South Atlantic League championship. 2022 No. 33 overall pick Dylan Beavers hit a three-run home run, while 2020 second overall pick Heston Kjerstad also drove in three. The teams will play a winner-take-all game Wednesday at Ripken Stadium, with the IronBirds looking to be the first Orioles affiliate to win a league title since Double-A Bowie in 2015.
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.
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