Much has been made of the two-headed monster at the back end of the Orioles bullpen, and for good reason. Between Yennier Cano and Félix Bautista, there are two high-velocity arms who loom over their competition without the added benefit of a mound from which to look down upon hitters.
But other teams have their own imposing high-leverage arms, too, and the Minnesota Twins rolled theirs out in a one-run game Saturday at Camden Yards. It was right-hander Jhoan Durán, the fireballer who has allowed just four hits against his four-seam fastball all season, who looked down upon his Baltimore counterparts while 40,012 fans screamed.
The 25-year-old heard it from the second-largest crowd at Camden Yards this season. He heard it with the tying run on second base behind him.
He heard it until he could only hear his own teammates’ celebrations, having stranded that tying run in scoring position to seal Minnesota’s 1-0 victory against the Orioles. Baltimore has dropped four straight games for the first time this season.
It was an adventure for Durán, but he got it done. Adley Rutschman reached via a slow infield single, and Jorge Mateo stole second as a pinch runner. But Max Kepler’s sliding catch in right field foul territory on Anthony Santander proved pivotal, and Ryan O’Hearn grounded out to end the contest.
Baltimore managed all of three hits, having struggled against right-hander Bailey Ober. The Orioles didn’t fare much better against the Twins bullpen.
“They have some really nice arms in their bullpen,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “It’s tough when you’re behind those guys.”
Still, at the midpoint of the season, the Orioles hold a 48-33 record and appear in command of a wild-card spot. Reinforcements could still be on the way to improve this club, however, be it through trades or the farm system.
Joining the broadcast of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, Orioles general manager and Executive Vice President Mike Elias commended the large crowd at Camden Yards. He backed outfielder Austin Hays for an All-Star spot. And then he was asked about outfielder Colton Cowser, the high-ranking prospect who remains with Triple-A Norfolk despite entering Saturday with a .328 average and .999 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
“I think Colton’s ready for a phone call,” Elias said. “I think it depends on the circumstances at the major league level.”
One of those circumstances revolves around injuries, but when Cedric Mullins went down with a groin strain Cowser dealt with his own quad injury, pushing off a potential call-up. Instead, the Orioles signed Aaron Hicks as a fill-in outfielder, and while Hicks got off to a hot start in Baltimore, he and others in the lineup have cooled significantly.
Another of those circumstances could be the tepid offensive displays of late.
Including Hicks’ 0-for-3 Saturday, he is hitting 2-for-24 in his last eight games. He’s not alone. O’Hearn, the first baseman and corner outfielder, has fallen into a 2-for-23 hole.
It didn’t help that Ober looked nearly unhittable. He retired 18 of the first 20 batters he faced through six innings, with Gunnar Henderson’s sharp single in the second and O’Hearn’s hit by pitch the lone breakthroughs. Santander opened the seventh inning with a single, but O’Hearn flied out and Hays and Henderson struck out, ending that chance before it really became much of a chance at all.
“Just locating his stuff,” Mullins said of Ober. “I know, from my at-bats, he spotted two changeups deep in the count that, when you’re talking about edgy pitches possibly going their way, they went his way today. That was kind of how it was all day.”
Even with the nonexistent offensive against Ober, the Orioles were still within one run. Besides a slider left high in the zone that outfielder Joey Gallo cranked to right field for a fourth-inning solo shot, right-hander Kyle Bradish performed well.
Minnesota conjured ample hard contact against him — eight balls were hit at 100 mph or faster — but Bradish stranded runners on first and second in the second and third innings. Hays bailed out his pitcher in the third by laying out to rob Byron Buxton of an extra-base hit, completing a catch on a ball that Statcast projected to have a .770 expected batting average.
Even without his usual slider command, Bradish showed his growth from his rookie season to now in the way he navigated the outing with a mix of four other pitches. He spotted his two-seamer and four-seamer well on both sides of the plate.
“I think that two-seam really helps with down and away to righties, and also up and in,” Bradish said. “And I’m commanding the four-seam really well to lefties. It’s kind of got that cut, so it might look like a ball and then come back over.”
The lack of chances overall continued until Durán took the mound in the ninth. And, once there, the premier back-end arm shut it down. But it was a well-pitched game on both sides, first from Bradish and then several Orioles relievers.
There was just one pitch, then, that Bradish would want back.
“Ober threw the ball really good, and then they have a lockdown bullpen,” Bradish said. “I gave up that solo shot to Gallo, and that was the difference in the game.”