The Orioles finally found a way to beat the Tampa Bay Rays.
Spenser Watkins paved the way with a stellar start in which he allowed one run in a career-high six innings in a 6-1 victory Monday night at Tropicana Field.
Watkins was ready to walk away from the game this year and took a coaching job at Paradise Valley High in Phoenix before he got the call from the Orioles.
“He’s a great story,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “I just like that he’s pitching with confidence. The home plate umpire, who I’ve known for a long time, just mentioned to me that he was impressed with his stuff. He was surprised that he hadn’t been in the big leagues for very long, just because of the crispness of his stuff and how he can command.
“He’s not going to be overpowering, but he’s got a nice cutter, throws some good changeups to a mostly left-handed lineup, with a breaking ball, and is able to locate his four-seamer. Able to work in and out and change speeds, so he’s pitching. The old-school art of pitching instead of trying to blow the ball by everybody at the top of the zone. It’s fun to watch.”
Austin Hays took over the leadoff spot for Cedric Mullins, who is batting .167 (3 for 18) in five games against the Rays — his lowest against any opponent. Hays had three hits with an RBI and has hit safely in 15 of his last 20 games, batting .333 (24-for-72) during that stretch.
“It’s nice to give Mullins a day off and have production at the top of the order,” Hyde said.
The Orioles beat Tampa Bay for the first time in seven tries and have won three consecutive games, tying their longest winning streak of the season.
Watkins (2-0) showed solid command in his third major-league start, allowing just four hits with seven strikeouts and two walks. He has allowed three runs in 16 1/3 innings since the Orioles selected his contract from Triple-A Norfolk.
Watkins joined Dean Kremer as the only Oriole pitchers to allow one earned run or fewer in his first three major league starts. Hyde confirmed that Watkins will remain in the rotation for the foreseeable future.
“I’ve learned pretty much entirely who I am as a pitcher,” said Watkins, who’s 28. “I’ve always kind of had an idea of who I was as a pitcher, but the ability that this staff has had to kind of maximize who I am as a pitcher and really upgrade me in a sense, I’m still me, but I think there were some upgrades that came along with just working different things and how to maximize my stuff. It’s just been incredible.”
Trey Mancini had two hits and is batting .375 (9-for-24) with four home runs and nine RBIs in seven games against the Rays this season.
Rays left-handed starter Ryan Yarbrough (6-4) has struggled against the Orioles this season. In his previous two starts, Yarbrough allowed eight runs and 11 hits in 12 innings.
The Orioles managed to put pressure on Yarbrough in the first inning. Hays and Mancini led off with singles before Ryan Mountcastle had a run-scoring double. Anthony Santander hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Mancini for the Orioles’ second run.
Mountcastle has 74 career RBIs, the second-most by an Oriole in his first 122 career games, trailing Trey Mancini (75).
Watkins got into a potential jam in the fifth when Brandon Lowe managed to reach on a grounder to second baseman Pat Valaika in the shift. However, Lowe was called out after a replay review.
The Orioles threatened in the sixth when Santander earned a 12-pitch walk and Ramon Urias singled up the middle. After striking out Pedro Severino and getting Ryan McKenna to ground out, Yarbrough allowed a two-run single to Valaika, who delivered his first RBI in 16 days. Kelvin Gutierrez lined a single that boosted the lead to 5-0 and ended Yarbrough’s night.
Matt Wisler replaced Yarbrough and gave up an RBI double to Hays.
The Rays finally scored in the sixth on a double by Randy Arozarena that scored Austin Meadows, who had walked.
“I thought he was keeping his stuff, he was throwing strikes, he was locating for the most part,” Hyde said. “We were playing good defense behind him. I didn’t have a couple of guys available today, so I was trying to get him to go as long as he possibly could. Once we got that 6-0 lead in the top of the sixth, I wanted him to go as far as possible. He did a nice job finishing that sixth inning and the bullpen guys did a good job after him.”
Cole Sulser pitched a scoreless seventh and was pulled for Paul Fry after issuing a lead-off walk in the eighth. Fry retired the next three batters. Tyler Wells closed out the game with a perfect ninth, striking out two.
The Rays have 28 comeback victories, second in baseball behind the Boston Red Sox (29). However, there was no comeback on Monday night.
“It’s so much better when you win,” Valaika said. “To start off the second half with a couple of wins has been really nice. So far, we’ve been playing some really good baseball with pitching and timely hits. Hopefully, we can continue to keep doing that for the rest of this half.”