BOSTON — The Orioles believed in this pitching staff as spring training ended and for good reason. While the year-to-year results of a pitching staff can be volatile, they believed because the overwhelming evidence of 2022 gave them hope heading into 2023.

After the Orioles lost Sunday’s series finale to the Red Sox, 9-5, they’ll be waiting for someone — anyone — to take the mound and show stability, if not dominance. Three games into the season, Orioles starters have combined to pitch 12 innings thus far, and they’ve conceded 15 earned runs between them for an 11.25 ERA.

“We just didn’t have our best series on the mound,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Need to improve on that. But I think we will.”

There’s no reason to panic. If a pitcher’s year was decided off his first outing, then right-hander Kyle Gibson would never have been an All-Star in 2021, instead left pondering the one out he recorded and five runs he allowed in his first appearance that year.

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Still, Baltimore didn’t allow eight earned runs in three straight games throughout the entire 2022 season. In three straight games to begin 2023, that’s what the Orioles did, with their starting pitchers and relievers both scuffling out of the gates. On opening day, Gibson gutted out five solid innings, allowing four runs. Right-hander Dean Kremer lasted just three innings with five earned runs against him.

On Sunday, in left-hander Cole Irvin’s first start for the Orioles since Baltimore acquired him in a trade this winter with the Oakland Athletics, he allowed six earned runs in four innings. The issues mounted early when Irvin walked two batters and allowed two hits in a first inning that required 32 pitches. Irvin had walked just one batter during his 14 1/3 spring training innings.

With the shortened displays from Irvin, Kremer and Gibson, the Red Sox became the third team since 1901 to score nine or more runs in their first three games.

“Gibby did a great job coming out of the shoot and setting the tone for us, and Kremer’s start yesterday was a little uncharacteristic of him and how he throws the ball,” Irvin said. “I think, all things considered, it might just be first starts, and first-start jitters, anxiousness and excitedness, because those two kind of go hand-in-hand. ... I just didn’t do enough to keep the game close.”

Those three starts forced Baltimore to turn to its bullpen to cover 14 innings, and that unit has also started the year off in a regression. It continued Sunday in the series finale, with right-hander Mike Baumann allowing both runners he inherited from left-hander Keegan Akin to score. Alex Verdugo tacked on another run off Baumann in the eighth.

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The Orioles offense, meanwhile, has started these three games well. They stole an MLB-record 10 stolen bases in the first two games of the season, then Cedric Mullins and Adam Frazier homered in the fifth inning to tie the contest at three.

Mullins added a two-run single in the seventh off left-hander Richard Bleier, continuing a strong start for him in left-on-left matchups. He also homered and singled off left-hander Chris Sale in Saturday’s 9-8 loss to Boston.

“All the work, focusing on hitting lefties this offseason, and also bringing in the confidence that I know I’ve had success in the past kind of tying it all together,” Mullins said.

Those fifth-inning home runs gave a new leash for Irvin to work with. The left-hander gave up a run in each of his first three innings and watched as his pitch count escalated to 63 within those frames.

Irvin, who prides himself on being a workhorse, maneuvered through the fourth inning but didn’t record an out in the fifth. And with it, the tie that Mullins and Frazier had re-established vanished in the form of three straight singles. Right-hander Bryan Baker replaced him, but Adam Duvall continued his blitz against Baltimore with a two-run single.

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But even with eight hits against Irvin, there were few for hard contact. The 0-2 fastball that Irvin left at the top of the zone against Kiké Hernández cost him in the form of a solo homer, but just two batted balls off Irvin left at an exit velocity of 100 mph or faster.

“They’re way better [than what they showed],” Mullins said. “I know these guys work hard, and it’s just one of those things where they had a good amount of soft hits right over the infield, and it hurt us. But I know coming in the near future, they’ll lock it in and put some zeroes on the board.”

Across Irvin’s 30 starts for Oakland last year, he completed more than four innings in 29 of them. Kremer lasted four innings or more throughout 2022. And Gibson threw 167 2/3 innings overall for the Philadelphia Phillies last season. The bullpen, however suspect it might’ve been in three games, still holds many of the faces that excelled last year, and it will receive boosts from right-handers Dillon Tate and Mychal Givens once they return from injury.

So while there’s some concern that the Orioles scored 23 runs in three games yet lost two of them behind a pitching staff and defense still finding its footing — and coming up empty — it is just three games.

“I’m disappointed, but at the same time I understand it’s a long season and we’ve got a lot of starts and a lot of games to go,” Irvin said. “Just got to keep chugging along.”

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville. 

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