BALTIMORE — When Grayson Rodriguez was sent down last week, it left a hole in the Orioles’ rotation.
Rather than call up one of their Triple-A starters — a rotation that has helped lead the Norfolk Tides to one of the best records in the minor leagues — Baltimore elected to get through Wednesday’s game against the Cleveland Guardians by using just its bullpen.
Seven Orioles relievers combined to allow 12 runs and 17 hits to the Guardians in a 12-8 loss that handed Baltimore a series loss — its second straight for the first time this season.
Opener Keegan Akin, bulk man Austin Voth, left-hander Cionel Pérez, veteran Mychal Givens and righty Mike Baumann combined to throw the first 6 1/3 innings and surrender all 12 runs. The poor performance from the bullpen spoiled an eight-run output from the Orioles’ lineup, seven of which were scored after Baltimore had no runners on with two outs.
Cleveland entered the series at Camden Yards as the worst offense in the majors by OPS but the Orioles struggled to tame the Guardians’ bats, which produced 22 runs across the three games.
Despite the loss, the Orioles end May with a 16-12 record. The month was expected to be a litmus test for Baltimore after it overachieved in 2022 and then feasted on a relatively easy April schedule, but the Orioles made it through and still have one of the best records in the major leagues at 35-21.
The Guardians (25-30) struck first with a run in the opening frame off Akin. José Ramírez’s double down the left-field line scored Steven Kwan, who led off the game with a bunt single. Cleveland ace Shane Bieber retired the first five batters he faced, but his struggles with two outs began in the second as six straight Orioles reached and the club batted around in the inning.
Aaron Hicks, playing in his first game as an Oriole, and Ryan O’Hearn both walked with two outs. Jorge Mateo hit a double down the right-field line — his first extra-base hit since May 6 as he’s spent the entire month floundering at the plate after a scorching hot April — to score Hicks. No. 9 hitter Ryan McKenna then roped a 108.5-mph single to center field to bring home O’Hearn and Mateo. Adam Frazier doubled, and Adley Rutschman’s ground ball ricocheted off Bieber’s glove for an RBI infield single that gave Baltimore a 4-1 lead.
The bottom of the order would produce two more runs, both off the bat of O’Hearn. The left-handed bench bat doubled home Hicks, who singled with two outs, in the third and then beat out a double-play ground ball in the fifth to score Gunnar Henderson. O’Hearn, who sparsely plays but could receive more playing time with Cedric Mullins on the injured list, is hitting .279 with a .845 OPS this season.
After trailing 4-1 after two innings, the Guardians scored 10 runs in the next three innings off Voth, Pérez, Givens and Baumann, all of whom ended their outings allowing multiple runs. Andrés Giménez hit a two-run single off Voth, who allowed five hits, three walks and three runs in 2 1/3 innings, in the third. Josh Naylor and Josh Bell hit back-to-back homers off Pérez in the fourth to give Cleveland a 6-5 lead — ending the one positive of the left-hander’s disappointing 2023 campaign thus far, which was the fact that he entered Wednesday without allowing a home run.
The Guardians then plated five in the fifth. Givens continued his struggles since his return from the injured list by allowing the first three batters to reach before being pulled for Baumann. Naylor then hit a bases-clearing double, and Gabriel Arias clobbered a Baumann fastball into the bullpen for a two-run blast. The final run of the afternoon was an RBI single from Naylor, his fourth hit and sixth RBI, in the seventh.
It wasn’t all bad for the Orioles’ relief corps, though, as Bryan Baker and Danny Coulombe — perhaps the club’s most-trusted relievers behind Yennier Cano and Félix Bautista — pitched 2 2/3 scoreless to end the game.
Hicks’ new home
Hicks is no stranger to playing at Oriole Park. Wednesday’s matinee was his 47th career game at Camden Yards, the third-most at a major league ballpark behind the stadiums for the two teams he previously played for: New York and Minnesota.
However, Wednesday was the first time Hicks appeared in a game in orange and black after joining the club Tuesday to help fill the absence of center fielder Cedric Mullins, who was placed on the 10-day injured list with a right groin strain. Before the game, Hicks said he’s “comfortable” roaming the outfield at Camden Yards, with manager Brandon Hyde noting that he put Hicks in center field and Ryan McKenna in left field because of the former’s comfortability playing center over left.
“Obviously, you know, I’ve had some success here,” Hicks said. “I’m excited to see this new team. They’re definitely young, and they’re exciting. They come ready to play every single day is what I like, and just excited to get to know them better, really.”
Hicks was brought in to replace Mullins’ roster spot, but he can’t replicate Mullins’ value. Mullins is one of the two best players on the Orioles, while Hicks has posted a .625 OPS since 2021.
“There’s no replacing him,” Hicks said. “He’s a young player that has already got himself a Silver Slugger and an All-Star appearance. … You can’t try to replace him, you just got to do your game and see how it goes.”
Hicks has a .524 OPS this season, but from April 25 until he was released by the Yankees on Friday, he slashed a respectable .276/.344/.448. He went 3 for 4 in his penultimate game as a Yankee, ending his eight-year tenure in the Bronx. He said he felt like he was getting into a groove, adding that he hopes he can play every day while Mullins is on the shelf and find the “rhythm” he had when he was a valuable player for New York from 2017 to 2020. Hyde, meanwhile, is hoping Hicks can give the Orioles a “spark,” and he did so in his first game, going 2 for 2 with a walk before being removed for muscle cramps in his calf.
“There’s some guys around the league right now where some change of scenery has helped,” Hyde said. “I think that sometimes you just need a little bit of fresh air and a little change of uniform and maybe it energizes you a little bit. Hopefully, that happens with Aaron. He’s still got a ton of ability, unbelievably athletic and hit the ball out of the ballpark from both sides and do a lot of different things. He’s shown he can do that in his career, and we’re hoping that this change can help him this time.”