ST. PETERSBURG, Florida—Needing another starter and not wanting to rely on his shaky bullpen for a full nine innings, manager Brandon Hyde hoped that a pitcher he hadn’t seen perform in person could get a win for the Orioles.
Tom Eshelman nearly got the win, and he earned the manager’s respect.
Eshelman, who was acquired by the Orioles three weeks ago from the Philadelphia Phillies for international signing bonus money, had an awful first inning.
Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, long a MASN broadcaster, tweeted this commentary from home: “Feel sorry for Tom Eshelman in big league start. Command guy with no command. Stuff looks flat, most likely quite nervous.”
Eshelman allowed five of the first six batters to reach. Two of them scored, but he left the bases loaded in a 6-3 Orioles loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night.
After that first inning, Eshelman, who didn’t throw a pitch over 87 mph, settled in and allowed just two singles over the next four innings.
“It was pretty surreal,” Eshelman said. “Going out there stretching and getting ready for the start, it was something that I’ve always dreamed of and for me to be able to do it here is unbelievable. I was really excited to get that first strike.
“One thing I wanted to do was go deep in the game and give the bullpen a break. That’s my number one goal every time. Once they got that two spot, now it’s time to pitch. Took a breath in the dugout, got back out there, then started doing what I did to get here.”
Hyde didn’t allow Eshelman to go out for the sixth.
“We needed some at-‘em balls and got some. He grinded through five innings,” Hyde said. “I thought he found a nice little rhythm there after the first inning and did a really, really nice job. Gave us five really good innings and left with a lead.”
The Orioles took the lead in the top of the sixth on RBI singles by Pedro Severino and Rio Ruiz. But Eshelman’s hope for the victory evaporated quickly
Reliver Branden Kline gave up a leadoff walk and allowed a three-run home run to Kevin Kiermaier on a 3-1 pitch. He left without retiring a batter, and the Orioles trailing, 5-3. After the game, Kline was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.
Hyde had pointed criticism for his bullpen while assessing Eshelman’s effectiveness. Although Eshelman’s fastball topped out at 87, Hyde cited his command, his ability to mix his pitches and change locations in the strike zone. He said he hoped the bullpen was paying attention after another ineffective night.
“A guy being able to work both sides of the plate and throw off-speed in fastball counts,” Hyde said. “Nice tempo, looked like a pro.”
Tampa Bay started opener Ryne Stanek, who pitched two scoreless innings. Ryan Yarbrough allowed a run on Hanser Alberto’s RBI single in the fourth. Former Orioles reliever Chaz Roe gave up the two runs in the sixth.
The Orioles had just one hit in the last 3 1/3 innings, Jonathan Villar’s two-out double in the ninth, as their record fell to 24-60.
With five games and an off-day before the All-Star break, it’s uncertain that Eshelman starts again, but he’ll stay with the Orioles for now.
“I was impressed,” Hyde said.
Wojciechowski gets start: Asher Wojciechowski, whom the Orioles acquired from Cleveland for cash considerations on Monday, will be activated to start against Tampa Bay on Tuesday. It will be his first start since September 30, 2017 against the Chicago Cubs.
Kline’s demotion opens a spot on the 25-man roster for Wojciechowski, but a 40-man move must be made. Matt Wotherspoon, who was optioned to Norfolk last week, could be the odd man out. He was designated for assignment in April, passed through waivers and was outrighted to the Tides.
Severino hurt: Severino has taken a beating behind the plate this season. He took a foul ball off his right kneecap in the bottom of the third inning when Tampa Bay’s Avisail Garcia was batting.
“The ball follows me everywhere because when I played winter ball in the Dominican … I just got five line drives in my head, too,” Severino said. “It’s every time when I’m catching. I don’t know what I do [whenever] they miss the ball, but the ball follows me. Hitting my body, my chest. Weird.”
Hot Dog night: For you hot dog mavens, the Orioles will hold Hot Dog night on July 17. The Orioles will randomly hand out shirts with “Ketchup,” “Mustard” and “Relish” to all fans. Those are the participants in the daily condiment game.
Hot dogs will be available for $1 each at many concession stands.