Robinson Chirinos could tell early, during the pregame bullpen session, that right-hander Dean Kremer wouldn’t pitch the way he did last week against the Houston Astros. In that last performance, Kremer hurled a shutout, establishing himself as a breakout starter for the Orioles and setting himself up for a place in the 2023 rotation.
But a pitcher won’t have their best stuff every game, and Chirinos knew this was going to be one of those games. So the catcher approached the 26-year-old before Wednesday night’s 3-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox to remind him that these days happen.
“Today’s the day you have to compete and grind and try to give this team a chance to win a game,” Chirinos said.
That’s what Kremer did. But without any offensive support behind him — barring an eighth-inning home run from Chirinos — the loss fell at Kremer’s feet. His command wasn’t there early, as he walked four batters while allowing three runs on six hits in five innings.
Kremer has a competitive streak that doesn’t allow him to see the bright side very often; if an outing isn’t up to his standards, he’s not shy in vocalizing his disappointment. But there had to be credit where it was due for the starting pitcher, who overcame his lack of command to keep Baltimore in the game.
“He battled through the first couple innings without his best command, just giving up minimal damage,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
As the clock ticks down on the Orioles season, there are fewer opportunities to bounce back from performances such as Wednesday night’s.
Left-handed pitchers, such as Red Sox starter Rich Hill, have been a kryptonite of sorts for the Orioles of late, and without Cedric Mullins, Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson in the starting lineup, there was a noticeable lack of production. There was a momentary opportunity after Chirinos’ homer, his first since Aug. 3. And the tying run came to the plate in the form of Rutschman in the ninth inning after a Henderson walk. But Rutschman struck out to end the contest, sealing a loss that dims already faint postseason hopes.
With seven games remaining, the Orioles’ (80-75) magic number for elimination is down to four. The Seattle Mariners, who played later Wednesday night, hold the tiebreaker, complicating a push for the final American League wild-card spot.
“Last couple losses [have] been hard,” Chirinos said. “If you’re looking back to spring training and where we started the season, I think everybody in that clubhouse should be proud of what we accomplished this year. We still have a chance, and that’s the only thing you can ask for.”
In Kremer’s shutout of the Astros, his curveball and cutter were dominant, and he threw the breaking ball 25% of the time — about 13 percentage points above his season average. Kremer hardly needed to use his four-seam fastball in that outing.
But against the Red Sox, Kremer’s curveball hardly made an appearance; he used it 11% of the time and drew one whiff with it compared to the seven he recorded last week.
“I think everything, including the curveball, cutter, fastball, all of it, just weren’t coming out as crisp as last outing,” Kremer said. “It was just a grind.”
The initial breakthrough came in the first inning, when Alex Verdugo’s single scored Rafael Devers. A well-timed double play eliminated further damage in that frame, but Abraham Almonte and Verdugo later homered off Kremer before left-hander Keegan Akin came in two batters into the sixth inning.
Akin, who had been optioned Monday, returned Wednesday to offer a fresh arm for the bullpen. He was pivotal for the Orioles in his return, covering the final three innings with one hit allowed and two strikeouts. That saved the rest of a taxed bullpen for Thursday afternoon’s series finale against Boston, with right-hander Mike Baumann on the mound.
“With where our bullpen is right now,” Hyde said, “for Akin to do that, it was big for us tomorrow.”
The number of tomorrows are dwindling for this team, as another loss in Boston — and the Orioles’ fourth in five games — leaves them teetering. Until it’s over, though, Baltimore will hold tight to the concept that there are still a few tomorrows at all.
“You never know,” Chirinos said. “You never know in this game what’s gonna happen.”
A season over
The season ended for infielder Ramón Urías between second and third base Tuesday night, when he suffered a right knee sprain. He was placed on the 10-day injured list. In the clubhouse, his right leg was wrapped in a soft cast.
In more of an everyday role, the 28-year-old put together a solid year in his third season with the Orioles. He hit .248 with 16 homers and a .720 OPS. Hyde said Urías’ ability at third base was also impressive.
“In batting practice, he’s got a lot of power to right-center, right field, and that’s what we’ve seen for the last couple years,” Hyde said. “He can back side a ball as well as anybody. But for me this year, taking the next step, being able to pull the ball with a little more authority.”
Hyde said in the long term, Urías “will be fine.” But the injury is an “unfortunate” way to end his season.
Around the horn
- Akin, right-hander Beau Sulser and infielder Tyler Nevin were recalled to the Orioles on Wednesday while right-handers Joey Krehbiel and Jake Reed were optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.
- Norfolk finished its season Wednesday with a loss to the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. The Tides ended the year at 74-76.
- Ryan Mountcastle was moved late from first base to designated hitter Wednesday, then struck out four times. Asked whether everything’s OK with Mountcastle, Hyde said “it was just a late switch, and he should be fine.”
Thursday, 1:35 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM