Orioles again don’t get enough innings from starter, lose 8-4 to Athletics

Published 4/12/2023 9:29 p.m. EDT, Updated 4/13/2023 1:01 p.m. EDT

Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Dean Kremer (64) returns to the mound after Oakland Athletics infielder Brent Rooker (25) homers in the first inning of a baseball game at Camden Yards on Wednesday, April 12. This was the third game in a series the Orioles played against the Athletics.

The trickle-down effect of another short outing from a starting pitcher is this: Orioles manager Brandon Hyde needed a fresh arm for a high-leverage spot, so he turned to a left-hander despite four right-handed hitters due up in the eighth inning.

Cionel Pérez inherited a difficult situation from Keegan Akin, with two Oakland Athletics on base and no outs. The luck didn’t go his way. By the end of the eighth, Oakland established a three-run lead with four singles and two sacrifices.

The unraveling of that inning underscores the necessity for Baltimore’s starters to go deep into games — which they have yet to consistently do. In Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Athletics, it was right-hander Dean Kremer’s turn to last just 4 1/3 innings.

“The pitch count is an issue right now for some of our guys,” Hyde said. “We’re pretty taxed in the ‘pen.”

Prior to the eighth inning, right-hander Mike Baumann held Oakland scoreless through two innings. Akin ran into difficulties in the eighth, however, when he allowed two leadoff singles, and Hyde said the only two available relievers who wouldn’t throw on back-to-back nights were Pérez and Félix Bautista. Hyde opted for Pérez, in case Bautista would be necessary for a save situation.

But with Pérez on the mound, the cuts started then with a bunt single to the right side, loading the bases. Jesús Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly to score the first run, and left fielder Austin Hays’ questionable decision to throw in to second base rather than third allowed Jace Peterson to tag and eventually score on a one-out squeeze bunt.

Then Carlos Pérez, who had already homered in the fifth inning off Kremer, added another RBI to his evening with a single.

The game would only unwind further from there, with Cionel Pérez left out to allow another run in the ninth before right-hander Logan Gillaspie — making his team-high seventh appearance — ended the headache with a first-pitch double play.

“Didn’t want to use Gillaspie there,” Hyde said. “It was a dire emergency. I just didn’t want Pérez to stay out there too long. This would’ve been three in a row for Bake [Bryan Baker]. Wasn’t going to do that. [Austin] Voth pitched one-plus last night; he’s not ready for a back-to-back bounce back.”

Apart from his first inning and one pitch in the fifth, Kremer pitched solidly. He retired 11 of the 13 batters he faced at one point before Carlos Pérez jumped all over 92.3-mph fastball that hung over the heart of the zone to lead off the fifth.

The main damage against Kremer came early, with a single, walk and a three-run home run from Brent Rooker within the first four batters. That 3-0 hole would be whittled down, but the four runs overall against Kremer — and the extended battles that elevated his pitch count to 90 — cut his outing short.

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“I made a couple of mistakes that led to a long ball, but if I can keep the ball in the yard, I think I’d be doing a pretty good job,” Kremer said. “Just got to figure out a way to do that.”

Kremer’s second half of 2022 put him on the map for Baltimore’s future rotation plans. He pitched to a 3.23 ERA in 125 1/3 innings, saw his average fastball velocity rise toward the end and left spring training with a coveted rotation spot. Kremer said his “stuff” is better than it was last year, with his four-seam fastball velocity averaging 94.6 mph with more break on his off-speed pitches.

The downside through three starts, though, has come in his inability to force weak contact early in counts. And there are, of course, the handful of mistakes that have led to homers.

“Just got to figure out a way to keep the ball in the yard, honestly,” Kremer said. “Then I’ll be right where I was last year.”

The short outings have been a theme for these Orioles. In Tuesday night’s win, Hyde was asked why he kept right-hander Grayson Rodriguez in for another batter, considering the prospect had already walked two in the fifth before his final walk loaded the bases. Hyde said “I can’t continue to pull our starters in the fifth inning.”

He was forced into it again one day later, though, leaving a bullpen that had covered the seventh-most innings in baseball (44 2/3) entering Wednesday to handle a heavy load again.

Baltimore found its way back in the game in the seventh, when Cedric Mullins and Adley Rutschman each drove in runs with singles. That added to the RBI double from Jorge Mateo earlier and a sacrifice fly from Ryan McKenna.

But the offensive explosion of one day earlier, when Ryan Mountcastle himself drove in nine runs, never showed up to cover for a bullpen that was pushed until it imploded.