WASHINGTON—Through seven innings, Washington Nationals pitchers Austin Voth, Javy Guerra and Tanner Rainey had shut down the Orioles on just two hits.
Trailing by three runs, their dormant offense woke up against Sean Doolittle. Pat Valaika and Pedro Severino, half of the Orioles’ trimmed-down, four-man bench, hit consecutive pinch-hit home runs to start the eighth, trimming Nationals’ lead was 3-2.
Manager Davey Martinez removed Doolittle for Daniel Hudson after he struck out Chris Davis. Austin Hays walked, Hanser Alberto singled to left, and Anthony Santander hit an opposite-field home run to left, his third. Not far from the home run, the Orioles’ bullpen erupted, with Miguel Castro leading the cheers.
The Orioles had turned a 3-0 deficit into a 5-3 lead.
Santander credited Hays for his 11-pitch walk, and Alberto’s single.
“That set the tone for my at-bat,” he said through a translator.
“A grinder at-bat,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “That’s what you love to see.”
Hyde knew Santander’s ball had a chance to go out.
“I was screaming to ‘get up’ and ‘stay fair,’” Hyde said. “I was screaming at myself to try to get that ball to stretch.”
The Orioles’ 5-3 win gave them an unlikely series win. On Sunday, Asher Wojciechowski, working on three days ‘rest, will go for the sweep against Stephen Strasburg, making his 2020 debut.
Shawn Armstrong, the Orioles’ fourth pitcher, threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings for the win. Cole Sulser pitched the eighth, walking Starlin Castro and Juan Soto with one out before retiring Howie Kendrick on a grounder back to the box and striking out Eric Thames.
Castro pitched a hitless ninth for the save.
“I hadn’t thrown [Sulser] in five days, so he was pitching in this game regardless,” Hyde said. “He showed rustiness a little bit. I’ve got to not do that. I would have considered sending him back out there for the ninth if it was a quick inning.”
The comeback victory followed their 11-0 drubbing of Washington on Friday night when they had 19 hits. The Orioles evened their record at 7-7.
According to STATS, it was the third time in Orioles history they’d hit back-to-back pinch-hit home runs. The last time was on August 12, 1985 when Wayne Gross and Larry Sheets did it. They also did it on August 26, 1966 when Vic Roznovsky and Boog Powell went back-to-back against the Red Sox.
Because the Orioles had a doubleheader on Wednesday, they needed another starter, and Hyde chose Thomas Eshelman, who allowed two runs on five hits in four innings.
Soto hit his first home of the season to lead off the second, a drive that just cleared the left-field wall. Kurt Suzuki’s sacrifice fly scored the second run later in the inning.
Tanner Scott’s throwing error in the sixth helped lead to the third run on Thames’ double to center.
Eshelman was watching the comeback away from the field.
“I was fired up,” Eshelman said. “I was ecstatic in the clubhouse.”
Harvey update: Hunter Harvey has yet to pitch this season because of a right forearm strain. Harvey is rehabbing at Bowie.
“I would say he’s still more like than three weeks away,” Hyde said. “He’s still in his throwing progression. It’s going very, very well. We’re very encouraged about his progress. I would hope we’d get him at some point at the end of this month.”
Less outfield depth: In the past three days, the Orioles optioned DJ Stewart and Cedric Mullins to the Bowie alternate site, leaving them with no pure outfielders on the bench.
Saturday’s reserves were Severino and another catcher, Bryan Holaday, utility players Valaika and Andrew Velázquez.
“The wild card for us is Velazquez, who’s able to play multiple positions, all three spots in the outfield,” Hyde said. “I feel comfortable playing him both middle spots in the infield, so he really helps us out from a versatility standpoint, able to play outfield defense late, able to play shortstop for us, able to run.
“It’s nice to have somebody so versatile so I can insert him where needed. That’s really the reason. Cedric did a great job defensively for us. I was using him for defense late with the lead, but I really feel comfortable with Velazquez as well.”
Three catchers: It was a bit of a surprise when the Orioles added a third catcher to their 30-man roster, but Holaday has impressed Hyde with his leadership, and he survived the cut to 28 on Thursday.
Holaday began the season with the Orioles’ three-man taxi squad along with Eshelman and utilityman Dilson Herrera.
The taxi squad, which was increased to five for road games when rosters were cut to 28, must include a catcher, who can warm up pitchers in the bullpen. The others can’t dress for the game.
“I was actually one of the lucky ones on the taxi squad,” Holaday said. “For that road trip to Boston, I was suited up in the bullpen, catching some guys. Got to watch a big league game.”
After the Orioles returned home from their postponed games in Miami, Holaday returned to the Bowie for a few days until his contract was purchased.
“Going there, I didn’t know what to expect,” Holaday said “I didn’t know much about what was going on. The Orioles are doing a tremendous job with it. The structure of the whole thing, how they’ve spaced guys out, allows you to get a ton of work in in the amount of time you’re given.
“It’s definitely good for the young guys, but it helped me out a ton. I was able to get a ton of at-bats there.”