With the Orioles opening their 2021 season with a three-game sweep over Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. Brandon Hyde said it best when asked what the weekend meant: “It means we got off to a nice start. Now we’ve got 159 more to go.” Expectations shouldn’t change after one series, but periods of success carry long-term value for young teams trying to avoid getting used to losing.
2. It’s a relatively simple game when you play solid defense and allow just five runs over 27 innings, 17 2/3 coming from starting pitchers. Tossing a two-hit shutout on Opening Day after having exactly one shutout in a 60-game schedule last year is a welcome change.
3. Cedric Mullins collected five hits in Sunday’s 11-3 win and has started 9-for-13. He began 2019 6-for-64 before being optioned and plummeting to Double-A Bowie. Having abandoned switch-hitting this offseason, the 26-year-old was 3-for-3 as a lefty hitter against southpaw pitching this weekend. He’s really easy to root for.
4. The fast start for Mullins is even more notable with Austin Hays leaving the series finale with right hamstring “discomfort.” You hope it’s minor, but Hays not being able to stay on the field is an all-too-familiar story. His early exit was the only real blemish on Baltimore’s weekend.
5. John Means was masterful in seven one-hit innings on Opening Day, baffling hitters with his changeup and effectively dotting the corners of the strike zone. The lefty’s fastball velocity was also at its best in his final inning of work, an impressive feat in the first start of the season.
6. Being staked to a 10-run lead can prompt concentration lapses for a young pitcher, but Bruce Zimmermann threw strikes and provided a rock-solid six innings while seeing his stuff tick up late in the outing. Those Zimmermann comparisons to Means a couple years ago held up for one start anyway.
7. Trey Mancini described being back on Opening Day as “surreal” and compared the experience to his major league debut. His two-run double in Sunday’s seven-run third inning headlined a fairly ordinary statistical weekend, but Mancini simply looking like his old self was nothing short of remarkable.
8. Though you don’t want to make much out of an outing that lasted just 4 2/3 innings, Matt Harvey was competitive, which was something you couldn’t say about the 32-year-old’s 7.82 ERA over the last two seasons. He pitched well enough Saturday to make you want to see him again.
9. Backing up Harvey was Adam Plutko, who logged 2 1/3 scoreless innings to register the win and bridge the gap to Dillon Tate and Cesar Valdez. Long relievers like Plutko could be more important than ever as clubs adjust from the abbreviated 2020 back to the 162-game grind on pitchers.
10. Though Rio Ruiz made some impressive plays at second base for someone who’d never started there professionally, I do wonder why the organization seems so committed to giving everyday at-bats to someone with a career .663 OPS. This isn’t shoehorning Steve Pearce’s bat at second base due to multiple injuries.
11. Failing to hit a single homer and striking out 33 times in a three-game series at Fenway? I’m guessing you wouldn’t find many opponents over the years leaving town with a sweep under those parameters, but a .325 average with runners in scoring position will back up good pitching.
12. Hearing Jim Palmer calling Orioles games again is another sign of moving back toward baseball normalcy. The Hall of Famer certainly didn’t sugarcoat Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers’ error on Saturday by saying, “You can’t hide him. You can’t hide him defensively.” Ouch.