Bruce Zimmermann knocked around early as Orioles suffer 8-1 loss to Royals, their ninth straight game without a quality start – The Denver Post



If it hadn’t been for the leaping catch by Cedric Mullins at the center field fence midway through the fifth inning, the night would’ve been worse for left-hander Bruce Zimmermann. But not by much.

Zimmermann had already allowed a career-high seven runs, including a blast from MJ Melendez that left the park for a three-run homer just one pitch earlier. That one was off a slider left middle-middle. The next pitch, a sinker, was in much the same location for Hunter Dozier to crush to the deepest part of Kauffman Stadium — and into Mullins’ leaping mitt.

The issues in Friday night’s 8-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals aren’t isolated to Zimmermann’s most recent appearance. They’ve stacked together, one on top of the other, a series of missed locations and hard-hit balls that have turned his campaign from a breakout one to a slippery slope.

“He got hurt again today with his offspeed stuff,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “For me, it was a lot of elevated offspeed in the middle of the plate in the first, and just really hung a bad slider to Melendez there.”

Five starts don’t render his first seven moot. But the difference has been stark. He allowed 11 earned runs in his first 36 1/3 innings this year before surrendering 27 in his next 25 2/3, including seven Friday on 10 hits. He conceded three home runs in those first seven starts before giving up 12 in his next five for the Orioles (24-35).

“He’s learning to pitch up here,” Hyde said. “He had a good first month, month and a half. Now he’s had a handful of rough starts and he’s got to bounce back.”

Two of those homers came Friday, with Salvador Perez knocking one into the fountain beyond right-center field four batters into the first inning. Between that homer and three doubles, the Royals had four of the first five batters reach on extra-base hits. Their first six hits went for extra bases, too. And while Zimmermann threw 76 pitches, he drew just six whiffs, with none on his changeup.

That pitch, especially, has been part of Zimmermann’s downfall. A dominant force over the first part of the season, it simply hasn’t been effective of late, with the left-hander leaving it higher in the zone than desired. Zimmermann practicality abandoned the pitch after throwing eight in a 29-pitch first inning, with just four changeups in his next 3 2/3 innings.

“Scouting report’s out, that’s my go-to secondary pitch,” Zimmermann said. “Our attack plan was to go to my other offspeed pitches, the breaking balls, a little bit more, and kind of reserve that changeup for spots that it’ll be a little bit more effective. More so just trying to use it more strategically now that teams know it’s gonna be thrown a lot.”

It marked Baltimore’s ninth straight game without a quality start — requiring at least six innings from a starter with three earned runs or fewer — with right-hander Tyler Wells last doing so against Boston on May 30.

Hitting woes

There were other problems to be had Friday beyond the lackluster pitching. After Anthony Santander singled in the first inning, 19 of the next 20 Orioles batters were retired by right-hander Jonathan Heasley — with the lone exception coming on an error that allowed Trey Mancini to reach base.

Heasley entered with a 4.62 ERA, allowing 1.697 walks and hits per inning. He left with a 3.62 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP, holding the Orioles to one hit in seven scoreless innings. The 25-year-old hasn’t been untouchable this season, walking at least two batters in each of his five other starts and allowing three runs in each of his last four outings.

But on Friday, he might as well have been untouchable, striking out a career-high seven batters while walking none. The 13th-round selection out of Oklahoma State in 2018 put together the best start of his career at the expense of Baltimore, with 37% of his changeups resulting in a called strike or a whiff.

“I thought we took some good at-bats the first inning or two,” Hyde said. “But not much after that.”

After Heasley departed, rookie catcher Adley Rutschman smoked a double into the right-field corner in the eighth, and Tyler Nevin and Cedric Mullins soon walked, yet Mancini’s bouncer stranded the bases loaded. And while Santander homered to lead off the ninth, it was a mere footnote.

That double was Rutschman’s second hit in seven games, bringing him to a 2-for-24 stretch during that span. But the 24-year-old top prospect isn’t alone with his troubles at the plate, especially Friday. The Orioles found themselves in a hole immediately, and even the strongest of offensive displays would’ve had a challenge overcoming the damage the Royals did against Zimmermann. But instead, Baltimore was left listless on the mound and at the plate for a second straight loss.

Around the horn

>> Heston Kjerstad didn’t waste time to get the first hit of his professional career. In his second at-bat Friday for Low-A Delmarva, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft sent a liner the opposite way. Kjerstad faced several hurdles on his way to the pros, missing the 2021 season because of myocarditis, a heart condition. A hamstring strain in spring training held him out of the beginning of this season. But two years to the day of his selection, Kjerstad finished 1-for-4 with an RBI.

>> Left-hander John Means had his brace removed Wednesday, he said, as he continues to recover from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. Means is with the team in Kansas City before he and his wife move belongings from his parents’ house in Kansas to their home in Texas with a U-Haul next week.

>> Ramón Urías was scratched from the lineup shortly before first pitch, with Nevin replacing him at third base. Hyde said Urías experienced left side discomfort during batting practice.

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