Baltimore’s new rookie sensation held Tampa in check with just one run allowed over six innings.
Once again, Spenser Watkins was the main storyline of an Orioles victory. The 28-year-old rookie starting pitcher has been a pleasant surprise in his brief major league exposure, succeeding despite a lack of overpowering stuff. And with the Orioles starving for decent starting pitching, Watkins is filling an enormous need. He’s also shown the ability to build incrementally on his success.
Consider Watkins’ walk-to-strikeout ratio in the first two starts of his career. On July 6, his BB/SO was 3:2 over five innings, and on July 11 it was 3:4 over 4.1 innings. He took a step forward in that department tonight, tallying two walks versus seven strikeouts. With six innings pitched, this was also the longest start of Watkins’ young career. Tampa only managed to get four hits off the right-hander.
Watkins was spotting his pitches well and keeping the Rays hitters off balance. He mixed his cutter, four-seamer, curveball, and a very rare changeup while topping out at 91 with his fastball early. Out of 92 total pitches thrown by Watkins, 60 were strikes.
The Orioles got on the board first with three consecutive hits and a sacrifice fly to open up the game against Ryan Yarbrough. Leadoff hitter Austin Hays scorched a ground ball single that hopped off the heel of third baseman Joey Wendle’s glove and landed softly in shallow left field. Trey Mancini followed with a single to left center, and Ryan Mountcastle dumped an RBI double down the line in right that bounced into the Rays’ bullpen in foul territory. Anthony Santander followed with a sacrifice fly RBI, and just like that the Orioles had a 2-0 lead.
Baltimore led the battle of pitches thrown in the early going. Yarbrough’s pitch count stood at 57 pitches after three innings while Watkins at 44 pitches in the same time span, which included 24 in the third inning alone.
The Rays were dealt a blow when their home run leader Mike Zunino (21 HR) exited with left hip flexor tightness. He was replaced behind the plate by Francisco Mejia when the Rays took the field for the top of the fourth. The bottom half of that inning ended with a superb play by the Orioles on an attempted steal.
After reaching base two batters earlier via single, Randy Arozarena was nailed by a one-hop bullet from Severino, with the pick and tag on the other end courtesy of Ramon Urias. Arozarena emerged from his headfirst slide with blood under his nose, and cameras showed him still dealing with it in the field the following inning.
O’s starter Spenser Watkins continued to navigate through the Rays’ lineup, getting out of the fifth when the O’s won an instant replay challenge at first base. Tampa second baseman Brandon Lowe initially beat out a ground ball to Pat Valaika, who was playing shallow right field in the shift. But upon further review, Lowe was called out.
The Birds’ offense struck again in the sixth, putting runners on first and second to start the frame. Santander walked after a 12 pitch at-bat and Urias singled to center before Valaika came through with a clutch two-out single that scored both runners. Then Kelvin Gutierrez drove Valaika home with a single.
Tampa starting pitcher Ryan Yarbrough left the game with two outs in the fifth and 108 pitches thrown. He gave up eight hits, five earned runs, two walks, and struck out five.
But the O’s weren’t done in the sixth, going right to work on Yarbrough’s replacement Matt Wisler. Austin Hays laced an RBI double down the right field line that hopped into the stands to complete the scoring in that frame. 6-0, Baltimore.
The Rays put a run on the board in the bottom of the sixth, reaching Spenser Watkins for the first time in the game. Austin Meadows worked a two-out walk and came around to score on Randy Arozarena’s double. 6-1, Birds.
Three Oriole relievers combined to lock down the final third of the game. Cole Sulser allowed a hit and a walk in a scoreless seventh inning. Then Paul Fry struck out one Ray in a clean eighth, and Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells finished things out with two K’s in the ninth.
It was a definitive victory and for the first time in seven games this year, the O’s beat the Rays. Baltimore led for the entire game, and it wasn’t even that close after the sixth inning. And don’t forget, the club is on a three-game winning streak too.