Just over five weeks into the strangest season of his life, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde knows how to measure the emotions of his team. He knew on Thursday that they weren’t emotionally prepared to play, so he agreed with his team that the Orioles should postpone their game against Tampa Bay.
Two days later, after a 5-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at Sahlen Field in Buffalo on Saturday night, Hyde observed a team that looked listless. It was the Orioles’ fourth straight defeat and their 10th in the last 12 games.
“I thought today was the first time we looked like a tired team,” Hyde said in a video conference call.
“We have been through a lot this season so far, and it’s emotionally draining, and I think that we’re physically tired, too. We’re emotionally tired. It’s not really an excuse because we’ve got to come back out at 3:07 [Sunday] and play a Major League Baseball game, but tonight that was the first time our bats looked slow. We showed more frustration offensively.”
If a picture captured the Orioles’ frustration, it was Chance Sisco slamming his bat into the ground and breaking it in two after a strikeout.
The Orioles were shut out for the third time this season. In six innings against Toronto’s newest starter, Tiajuan Walker, they had just four hits. They had only one hit against three Blue Jays relievers.
“Once we got down,” Hyde said. “it was kind of empty at-bats. A couple of guys tried a spark to get us going, but it just wasn’t happening tonight.”
Toronto scored five runs, four earned, on eight hits against Orioles starter Alex Cobb in four-plus innings.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had a two-run single in the first. Toronto scored two more runs in the fourth on a fielder’s choice by Derek Fisher that brought home Guerrero and a two-run single by Blue Jays second baseman Cavan Biggio.
Shortstop José Iglesias and rightfielder Anthony Santander each had two hits for the Orioles, who are 14-18.
Four weeks from Sunday, the Orioles’ “sprint season” comes to an end in Buffalo. There are 28 games in 29 days to play.
“We’ve been a pretty streaky team,” Cobb said. “We’ve got a really tough schedule. This last road trip, especially [we knew was] going to be a grind, and it has been, but I don’t really relate it to the trade deadline [August 31st], or not to the trade deadline. The vibe in the clubhouse, coming to play the game, each and every day when you’re winning is so much more fun than when you’re losing, and right now it’s just not that much fun when you’re having a lot of tough losses.”
The Orioles lost their best player, Trey Mancini, who underwent colon cancer surgery on March 12, the day spring training ended. They had the uncertainty of whether a season would be played because of Covid-19 and a hastily rearranged schedule because the Miami Marlins were decimated by positive tests after the first weekend.
Like other teams, they’ve had to adjust their personal and professional lives to the new ways of 2020. Then this week, there was the back-and-forth decision to postpone Thursday night’s game and a statement: “After continued reflection and further dialogue, Orioles players have decided to not play tonight’s game against the Rays as they join athletes around the country in expressing solidarity with victims of social injustice and systemic racism.”
Hyde isn’t one for excuses but he acknowledged the obvious.
“It’s just been a lot this year,” he said. “It’s way different playing in quiet stadiums where you have to bring your own energy every single night, and we’ve done that. I’m proud of how our guys have handled that, and they’ve done that very, very well.”
Late in the game, Hyde spoke to pitching coach Doug Brocail and major league coach Fredi González.
“This is the first time in a while where I haven’t at least said, ‘If we tie this, let’s get so-and-so going,’” Hyde said. “I feel like that’s happened every single game. I can’t remember the last time, but tonight was just not our best effort and I [felt] like our guys looked exhausted.”
The Orioles have been competitive. The first three losses in this skid were by a combined four runs, and this was just the sixth time this season the Orioles have lost by five or more runs.
Cobb, who played with a postseason team in Tampa Bay in 2013, senses something’s wrong.
“It feels like two Augusts combined into one,” Cobb said. “Everybody I talk to is emotionally and physically drained. This year has taken a toll on everybody. It’s something that we’re all kind of learning how to deal with each and every single day together.
“I think once we went on this losing streak, it weighs on you more, but it definitely doesn’t feel like we’re 30 games into the season and fresh. It feels like we’re on game 230 right now.”
Cobb ignores trade talk: The trading deadline is Monday at 4 p.m., and Cobb’s name has been mentioned, but he hasn’t been linked with anyone.
Saturday night’s performance won’t boost his value.
“It was just one of those days where warming up in the ‘pen, the ball’s not going where you want it to,” Cobb said. “The movement on the pitches isn’t where you want it to. You know it’s going to be a battle. It was. I left a lot of pitches up that got hit really hard. There just wasn’t a lot of crispness to the pitches.”
Cobb said he’s ignored the talk.
“I honestly have no idea,” he said. “There’s just so much that goes into this year. There’d be so much going into a normal trade deadline year
“I think this year, there’s no way to create some kind of hypothesis about what’s going to happen. I really haven’t paid attention to any of it. I really hadn’t too many questions about it, so it really hasn’t been on my mind too much.”
Valdez a bright spot: César Valdez, the 35-year-old whom the Orioles discovered in the Mexican League and signed as a minor league free agent in January, gave Hyde something to smile about.
Relieving Cobb, Valdez, who pitched in a major league game for the first time since August 4, 2017, allowed just one hit in three scoreless innings, walking one and striking out five. His pitches were slow, and had lots of movement.
“That was awesome to watch,” Hyde said. “He was slipping and sliding it in there, changing speeds, doing exactly what he did in spring training.
“That meant a lot to him. I got him out of the game because I’d like to use him sooner than later because it’s such a unique look, and he pumps strikes, and he can make guys look silly out in front.”
Cobb enjoyed watching him, too.
“That was fun to watch,” he said. “He did that the entire summer camp. He made all of our hitters look silly. He did it again tonight. It’s just so cool to see a guy, the struggles that he’s had in his career, to go play where he’s had to play and then come out here … I don’t know what he was before.
“I hadn’t seen him before, but it can’t be that because that stuff is unhittable, and he just does it with such ease. It’s tough for a pitcher that just struggled to get through four innings to watch him slice through a lineup like that without breaking a sweat, but I’m happy for him.”
On a dull night for the Orioles, there was something to savor.
“That was the highlight of the night,” Hyde said. “Handing him the ball, and watching him, wiggling out of the inning for Alex, and going two more scoreless innings after that with very little stress. That was fun for everybody to watch. The whole team was excited for him.”