When the Orioles acquired Cole Irvin this winter, they knew full well the challenges that a division full of right-handed sluggers poses for a left-hander who needs to fill up the strike zone and pitch to contact to overcome a lack of overpowering velocity.
MLB’s balanced schedule will mean Irvin has assignments like Saturday against the Yankees less often. Yet in an Orioles season with little margin for error, his home debut for the club showed how small his own is in a 4-1 loss to New York before 30,561 fans at Camden Yards Saturday.
Irvin tied a career high with four walks in a laborious outing where he struggled to stay in the strike zone and finally wobbled off the tightrope he walked all night in a fifth inning when the Yankees scored twice on a pair of extra-base hits and a sacrifice fly to end his outing.
“It’s part of my job to throw strikes and get outs, and I didn’t throw enough strikes,” Irvin said.
Added manager Brandon Hyde: “For me, there’s a lot of deep counts, not early contact. We need more early contact, and hopefully, he can stay in the game a little longer.”
Against the Yankees’ top righties, a group that has doubled over the years as Orioles tormenters, he fared fine. He struck out DJ LeMahieu in the first, then walked Aaron Judge before ending the inning with a tumble as he covered first on a double play. Giancarlo Stanton singled in the second, but Irvin stranded he and Gleyber Torres, who walked.
LeMahieu was retired again when Terrin Vavra made a diving catch in right field in just his second major league start at the position, then Judge struck out on a foul tip a batter later to end the third. After a two-out single by Aaron Hicks plated New York’s first run, LeMahieu doubled to score Anthony Volpe in the fifth, Judge scored him on a sacrifice fly, and Irvin’s day was finished.
Nothing was easy, though. The pitchers in Irvin’s mold who came before him — names like Wade Miley, Zac Lowther, and Alexander Wells — can likely sympathize. They had to pitch to these Yankees in the old version of Oriole Park and its shorter left-field dimensions, and Irvin indeed kept the ball in the park on this day.
But averaging 91 mph on a fastball and relying on guile and pitch mix to keep hitters off balance has been difficult to do in an Orioles uniform no matter the circumstances.
Irvin’s first two outings — four innings of six-run ball in Boston Sunday and now 4 1/3 innings with three runs against Saturday — have illustrated that.
“They’re two good lineups,” Irvin said. “I knew I had to come ready today and I most certainly did. My focus, my preparation, everything was spot on where it needed to be. But just too many pitches, some long [at-bats], and some walks really kind of just dictated that outing — and a couple bad pitches there later in the start.”
When they sent prospect Darell Hernaiz to Oakland for Irvin in January, they appreciated his experience and the fact that he’s under club control for four years, but also his durability and track record of consistently getting deep into games. He completed at least five innings in 27 of his 30 starts a year ago for Oakland, and finished six innings in 19 of them. With the Orioles bullpen not operating at full capacity without Dillon Tate and Mychal Givens, Irvin’s short, out-of-character outings have come at an inopportune time.
“I’m definitely not happy with the walks,” Irvin said. “That really cost us an extra inning out of our bullpen. I pride myself on getting deep into ballgames and giving the bullpen a day off. I just didn’t do enough today to allow them to rest a little bit more. Walks and deep counts, wasn’t getting ahead of guys. I thought my stuff was really good. I made some adjustments since the last start and I feel like I’m moving in the right direction — I’m just not getting ahead and walking too many guys right now. That’ll change.”
Even if he had pitched the way he’d hoped, this outing came on a night when the Orioles didn’t have the offense they showed in Friday’s home opener. They took an early lead when Cedric Mullins led off with a single, went to third on a single by Adley Rutschman, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Anthony Santander. They had two hits the rest of the way off Yankees rookie starter Jhony Brito and the relievers who followed him, putting the series on the line in Sunday’s Easter matinee.
“We had one run on four hits and didn’t give ourselves a chance offensively,” Hyde said.