BALTIMORE — The Orioles didn’t score until the ninth inning Wednesday. It took them seven innings Thursday. Austin Hays didn’t wait long Friday.
Batting leadoff, Hays homered on the first pitch he saw to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead. The early run — as well as the ones Baltimore scored in the second and fifth innings — mattered immensely, as the Orioles found themselves in a one-run game, relying on their bullpen to hold the tight lead.
Mike Baumann, Yennier Cano and Félix Bautista delivered, following another solid start from Tyler Wells to hand the Orioles a 3-2 victory over the visiting Kansas City Royals.
Wells delivered 6 2/3 efficient innings to maintain his status as one of the best pitchers in the American League. Baumann stranded two runners in scoring position with a two-out strikeout in the seventh. Cano won a nine-pitch battle with Salvador Pérez, inducing a ground ball double play, for a scoreless eighth. And Bautista continued his dominance in the ninth, striking out two batters and retiring the side in order for his 17th save of the season.
After Hays’ leadoff home run, Jorge Mateo singled home Gunnar Henderson, who recorded his first career three-hit game, in the second inning, and Anthony Santander roped an RBI double for the Orioles’ third run.
The close game is nothing new. The Orioles are 12-7 in one-run games, and 55 of their 63 contests have been decided by four runs or fewer. They are 35-20 in those games.
After going 0-2 in their first weekend in the new City Connect uniforms, the Orioles earned their first win in the new threads. Baltimore is 39-24 and owners of the third-best record in the major leagues.
Around the horn
•Ryan Mountcastle wasn’t in Friday’s lineup for the third time in seven games, but instead of manager Brandon Hyde giving him a day off to get his slumping swing right, the first baseman was out with an illness. “Just tried to play through it yesterday. I could tell he wasn’t feeling well, and he tried to battle through it,” Hyde said before the game. “He’s still feeling a little sick today, so we decided to give him a day today.” Mountcastle has four hits in his past 30 at-bats with 11 strikeouts and no extra-base hits.
•Before the game, the Orioles optioned left-hander Bruce Zimmermann to Triple-A Norfolk and recalled lefty Nick Vespi. Zimmermann provided long relief twice during the road trip, including three innings to keep the bullpen fresh when they were leaned upon in Thursday’s win. He gave up four runs in five innings. Vespi, who split his 2022 season between Norfolk and Baltimore, has a 1.77 ERA in 20 1/3 innings with the Tides this year. Vespi was previously recalled in mid-May, but he didn’t pitch in his few days with the Orioles.
•The Orioles announced that Cole Irvin will start Saturday. Baltimore had an open spot in the rotation after sending down Grayson Rodriguez in late May, and rather than go with a bullpen game, the Orioles are bringing back the left-hander they traded for this offseason. The stint will be Irvin’s third in Baltimore this year. He’s allowed two or fewer runs in his past five starts with Norfolk.
•Rodriguez started his second game at Triple-A since being demoted, scattering seven hits and one walk while allowing three runs in six innings. He struck out 10. One walk is an encouraging sign after he walked five in his previous start, especially considering fastball command was an area the Orioles want to see Rodriguez improve. Also for Norfolk, Heston Kjerstad hit an inside-the-park home run for his first Triple-A homer.