The radar gun at Camden Yards kept lighting up, one number higher than the last.
The pure heat out of Shintaro Fujinami’s hand didn’t require the velocity reading for those at Camden Yards to understand how fast he was throwing, though. It was well understood with each pop of James McCann’s catcher’s mitt, a smack that cut through the dissonance Sunday afternoon after another heater blew past the flailing bat of a New York Mets hitter.
This was Fujinami’s first high-leverage outing since Toronto, when he entered a tie game and departed with a three-run deficit. After that game, Fujinami admitted how badly he wanted to get the final out of the inning — so badly that he walked one batter and hit two more.
In the Orioles’ 2-0 victory Sunday, which secured their seventh series sweep of the year, Fujinami entered in the eighth inning of a two-run game. He faced the heart of New York’s order. And with a fastball that reached 103 mph, Fujinami showed why Baltimore’s front office traded for him. He showed that he does, in fact, have the makeup to handle a high-pressure situation.
“The game in Toronto didn’t go his way. Didn’t have command,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Proud of him for being able to want the ball again. Wants to be out there. Was anxious to get out there after that outing — that says a lot about him.”
As this season continues, more showings such as this one will only add to the value the Orioles (70-42) received when they acquired the Japanese pitcher from the Oakland Athletics.
Fujinami’s previous high-leverage situation came with two runners already on base in the sixth inning Wednesday. He took over for right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, but his control was nonexistent.
But his teammates and coaching staff in Baltimore have only built him up. Left-hander Danny Coulombe, for instance, trades a word a day — one English for one Japanese — as they become friends as well as teammates. The Camden Yards crowd cheered Fujinami’s name when he handled a scoreless inning in Friday’s blowout win against the Mets.
They did so again Sunday, and Fujinami earned hearty high-fives when he reached the dugout — a form of congratulations that bypasses linguistic barriers.
“I didn’t think about the situation very much, you know, only two runs up,” Fujinami said through interpreter Issei Kamada. “Just focused on breathing, like the pitching coach gave me as advice. Like, deep breaths on the mound to calm down. And also, just attack the zone. Just focused on those two things today.”
Fujinami struck out Pete Alonso with three pitches: two cutters and a four-seam fastball. He then struck out DJ Stewart with three more pitches, topping out at 102.6 mph. And for his final batter, Fujinami forced Omar Narváez into a popout.
Nine pitches, nine strikes.
Fujinami was in that position because Hyde decided to give Coulombe and right-hander Yennier Cano an additional day of rest. But without those two bullpen mainstays, the middle-relief arms thrust into big spots came through.
Right-hander Kyle Bradish wasn’t his sharpest but completed 4 2/3 innings without any runs against him despite walking five. To do so, Bradish needed left-hander Cionel Pérez to inherit and strand bases loaded in the fifth.
“Cionel Pérez, biggest out of the game there,” Hyde said after Pérez continued what has been a strong two months. Over his last 13 appearances, Pérez has a 2.03 ERA. Left-hander Cole Irvin and Fujinami pitched scoreless frames, and closer Félix Bautista worked around a leadoff double for his 30th save of the season.
“It’s a special group, as we’ve shown,” Pérez said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “It’s a really unique group, and we just have tons of fun back there.”
This wasn’t an offensive clinic, but when facing the lowly Mets, it didn’t have to be. The Orioles scored on two RBI groundouts, manufacturing just enough offense for the sweep. But the pitching staff handled the rest, including that wow-inducing inning from Fujinami that showed the heights of what he can bring.
To reach them, he’ll remember two things: deep breaths, and throwing strikes.
“Just take one game at a time and one outing at a time, and just accumulate that,” Fujinami said. “And, eventually, that’ll prove what I’ve got.”