Eighth-inning rally ensures Orioles don’t waste Dean Kremer’s best start in 5-3 win over Mariners

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Nathan Ruiz, Baltimore Sun
·5 min read
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The season’s first month went by with the Orioles still waiting to see the Dean Kremer that dazzled in his first three major league starts last summer. When he finally arrived for Monday night’s series opener with the Seattle Mariners, it seemed they wouldn’t be able to capitalize on it.

Instead, Cedric Mullins continued his season-opening tear by hitting a go-ahead, two-run home run in the eighth inning, one that narrowly escaped right fielder Mitch Haniger’s grasp as the Orioles finally broke through against a series of Seattle relievers in a 5-3 victory.

As Mariners fans celebrated what they thought was a game-saving catch from Haniger, the Orioles’ dugout was quiet, unsure of the outcome. Manager Brandon Hyde credited Mullins for having the poise to tell Pat Valaika, the runner on first, to not cross him on the basepaths amid the uncertainty, which would’ve resulted in Mullins being called out despite the ball going over the fence.

“My brain was running like a million miles an hour,” Mullins said.

Haniger’s near-heroics came a day after Oakland center fielder Ramón Laureano’s highlight play sent the Orioles (14-15) to a 7-5 loss in that series’ finale. When Haniger leaped, Hyde thought his team was going to suffer a repeat.

“It was a lot better feeling,” he said.

After he abandoned switch-hitting this offseason to strictly bat from the left side, Mullins’ home run off left-hander Anthony Misiewicz tied him for the team lead in that category, one of many in which he paces Baltimore. Both he and Hyde said the early success is a result of confidence, which he lacked two years ago as he struggled in the majors and plummeted to Double-A Bowie.

“It’s good to finally come to terms with the kind of player I am,” Mullins said, “and it’s showing on the field.”

Added Hyde: “He has come a long way in two years in every aspect. ... He’s obviously really comfortable now, and he knows he’s a good major league player.”

Austin Hays followed with a double off Misiewicz, who did not allow a run in his first 12 appearances, and came around to score, and Freddy Galvis added a two-run homer to complete the five-run frame.

While Kremer worked six innings for the first time since his major league debut, his lone blemish, a wall-scraping home run from Tom Murphy in the fifth inning, looked as if it would be decisive as the Mariners’ collection of relievers shut down the lineup. It was one of only two hits Kremer allowed in what was by far his best start of 2021.

“I feel like stuff has been the same since the beginning of the season,” Kremer said. “But today, I tried out a different mental game, I guess, and made sure I was staying on the attack and never really backing down from anybody who stepped to the plate.”

He needed 22 pitches in the first inning, then retired nine straight and 11 of 12 before Murphy won an eight-pitch battle by sending Kremer’s 71st pitch just over the right-field fence. But the 25-year-old rookie responded by retiring his final five batters, completing five innings for the first time in five starts and lowering his ERA from 8.40 to 6.43.

“I hope it boosts his confidence,” Hyde said. “For me, that was the most aggressive I’ve seen him pitch since his opening start against the Yankees last year, where there was presence on the mound, there was great tempo, poise, the whole package from an aggressiveness standpoint. He attacked their hitters, and he made them beat him and was in the strike zone. It was a huge step forward. Hopefully, he can build off of this.”

By the time Kremer left the game, Seattle (16-14) had already used four pitchers. Erik Swanson opened with two perfect innings, and although the Orioles loaded the bases with two outs against Domingo Tapia in the second, he struck out Trey Mancini to keep them off the board. Maikel Franco started the third with a double off Will Vest, but the next three batters didn’t hit the ball out of the infield as Franco ended the inning at third base.

After Baltimore’s big inning, Haninger’s two-run home run off Shawn Armstrong cut Baltimore’s lead in half, but Tanner Scott and César Valdez combined for the final five outs without issue.

Stewart scratched

Ahead of Mullins’ home run, Valaika drew a walk to reach base for a third time. He wasn’t in the Orioles’ original lineup.

DJ Stewart was scratched with lower back soreness, an injury that Hyde says wasn’t related to his collision with a bullpen awning in Saturday’s win in Oakland. Stewart has had a series of injuries in his short major league career, including a hamstring strain that caused him to open the season on the injured list.

“I’ve honestly never been hurt, like, my entire life until I got to pro ball,” Stewart said Saturday. “It’s kind of like all those injuries that I’ve avoided my entire life kind of just been back to back in professional baseball.”

Zimmermann optioned, Mattson recalled

Much as they used two days off in one week last month to option Kremer and carry an extra arm in the bullpen, the Orioles optioned left-hander Bruce Zimmermann to their alternate training site a day after he worked fewer than five innings for the third straight start.

Zimmermann, an Ellicott City native who has a 5.40 ERA through six starts, must remain in the minors for 10 days. The first game he would be eligible to recalled is Baltimore’s May 14 series opener against the New York Yankees, meaning that while Zimmermann will miss only one turn in the rotation, the Orioles will potentially need a spot starter in his place.

To fill their newly opened roster spot, the Orioles promoted right-handed reliever Isaac Mattson, one of four pitchers they required from the Los Angeles Angels for right-hander Dylan Bundy in December 2019 and the first to reach the majors. Across three minor league levels in 2019, Mattson, 25, struck out 110 batters in 73 ⅓ innings while posting a 2.33 ERA.

ORIOLES@MARINERS

Tuesday, 10:10 p.m.

TV: MASN Radio: 105.7 FM