Cole Irvin’s season didn’t start the way he wanted. After coming over from Oakland in a trade, Irvin had a 10.66 ERA in his first three starts, and he was sent down to Triple-A.
His return as a starter Saturday didn’t begin the way he would’ve hoped, either. He gave up singles to two of the first three batters, putting himself in a position he found all too familiar at the beginning of April — pitching with his back against the wall.
Fittingly, it was a stellar grab up against the wall from right fielder Anthony Santander that allowed Irvin to leave the first inning with a zero on the board and a weight off his shoulders.
Irvin and his defense were stellar for the remainder of his start, as the left-hander pitched 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball to earn his first win as an Oriole in Baltimore’s 6-1 victory over the visiting Kansas City Royals.
“Getting through that first inning was a little rough for me. My adrenaline was really kicked in,” Irvin said. “But Tony making that play out in right against the fence, he had a day out there in right field with me on the mound. I definitely owe him one, and it definitely calmed me down coming in.”
Irvin raised his arms exuberantly and tipped his cap to Santander, who received roaring cheers from the announced 34,136 in attendance. He later tipped his cap to center fielder Aaron Hicks for a sliding catch in the second inning and to second baseman Adam Frazier for a jump throw in the third.
“That’s how I pitch. I rely on the defense,” Irvin said. “I’ve already talked to Tony, but I know there’s a little party favor for what he did out there today. I put him through a conditioning test. Not my initial plan, but man, the defense was great. Frazier’s play up the middle, Hicks’ diving catch in center. It was just an all-around great team game.”
While his defense was outstanding, Irvin was sharp in his own right. He scattered six hits and struck out five, pairing his sinker and changeup to great effect. The lone run he allowed came on a single in the fifth inning from Freddy Fermin. He didn’t walk a batter, which should be expected for someone with his strike-throwing pedigree from his days with the Athletics, but he struggled commanding his pitches early this season. Fifty-five of Irvin’s 72 pitches were strikes.
“Uncharacteristically, his first couple starts here, he just had a lot of walks and was kind of pitching behind in the count,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Today he was more aggressive in the strike zone and pitching to contact, and we played well behind him.”
Simply put, Irvin looked like the Cole Irvin the Orioles thought they were getting when they traded infield prospect Darell Hernaiz for him in January.
“Yeah, that’s a little bit more normal,” Irvin said with a smile. “I’m just happy to be in the win column, in this uniform, too.”
Baltimore’s bats provided enough runs in the first inning, as Kansas City starter Brady Singer needed 39 pitches to get three outs. After his excellent catch in the top of the first, Santander ripped a double down the right field line to score Adley Rutschman, who walked in his first at-bat of his Captain America-themed bobblehead game. Ryan O’Hearn then singled home Santander, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles, to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead.
Gunnar Henderson, hitting in the leadoff spot for the first time this season, homered in the second. Austin Hays hit an RBI single in the fifth, and Frazier blasted a two-run homer in the eighth.
“If he can do what he did today every five days, I think that’s going to help out our staff a lot, help out our team a lot,” Frazier said about Irvin. “Hopefully he takes a lot from that, builds some confidence and come back and do it again in five days, because the way he was throwing today he can get a lot of guys out.”
Irvin was pulled about 25 pitches earlier than expected as he worked his way through the third time of the order, but the bullpen backed him up. Bryan Baker, Austin Voth, Cionel Pérez and Mike Baumann combined to pitch 3 2/3 scoreless innings. Their success, as well as the insurance runs from Hays and Frazier, were crucial given the fact that back-end relievers Yennier Cano and Félix Bautista were unavailable after pitching the past two nights.
Baker stranded Irvin’s runner. Pérez stranded two of Voth’s runners in the seventh, striking out leadoff hitter Nick Pratto and getting Salvador Pérez to ground out, before throwing a clean eighth for perhaps his best outing of a disappointing season. Baumann was in line for his first-career save before Frazier’s homer put the Orioles up five.
The Orioles are 40-24. They didn’t win their 40th game last year until July 7. In 2018, 2019 and 2021 — seasons in which the club lost 100-plus games — Baltimore didn’t get to 40 wins until late August.
Kyle Gibson and the Orioles will go for a series sweep over the Royals (18-46) on Sunday afternoon.
Gunnar up first
Henderson has led off three times in his young major league career. He’s homered in two of those games.
With Cedric Mullins on the injured list, Hyde picked his youngest player to lead off Saturday’s game. Henderson, 21, led off twice in September after his late-season call-up, hitting a homer in the first game he batted there. In his second at-bat Saturday, he launched a first-pitch slider 408 feet into the Orioles’ bullpen in left-center field to put Baltimore up 3-0.
The fact that Hyde is comfortable putting Henderson, who went 2-for-4 Saturday, in the leadoff spot is a result of the rookie starting to heat up at the plate after a slow start, as well as his plate discipline. Henderson also led off in Triple-A last season.
“He’s led off a little bit in the minor leagues. With his on-base profile and the way he’s swinging the bat right now, it feels right for the time,” Hyde said. “I felt like he was doing good at the plate and comfortable in the batter’s box.”
The infielder spent most of the season hitting below .200, but he entered Saturday with an .874 OPS since May 8. In his past 26 at-bats, Henderson has 10 hits with three home runs.
“I know it just takes some time to get my feet up under me here at the big league level because I’ve never had to start a season here,” Henderson said. “It’s a little bit different in minor leagues you can get your feet up under you a little bit quicker. Here, you’re facing the best pitchers day in and day out. I knew it would take a little time.”
Around the horn
- Ryan Mountcastle is still feeling under the weather, Hyde said before the game, and didn’t start for the fourth time in eight games. Hyde said the slumping first baseman could be available off the bench, but Mountcastle wasn’t called upon.
- Hyde said Mullins, who is in Sarasota, Florida, rehabilitating his right groin strain, has begun baseball activity. “It sounds like he’s progressing very well,” Hyde said.
Royals at Orioles
Sunday, 1:35 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Source: Berkshire mont