Brandon Hyde’s five seasons leading the Orioles have hinted how he might handle a playoff game. His postseason managerial debut in many ways aligned with what would be expected.
Even during Baltimore’s rebuild, Hyde showed a devotion to matchups, seeking any platoon advantage available. Often in those early years, the right decisions backfired; the Orioles lacked the talent for even the most logical choices — say, bringing in a left-handed reliever to face a pocket of left-handed hitters — to be executed correctly.
That’s certainly not the case with the 2023 Orioles, who won 101 regular-season games to claim the American League East title. But they fell to the Texas Rangers, 3-2, in Game 1 of the AL Division Series partly because the decisions he made, logical as they were, did not pan out.
Twice, he brought in a left-handed pinch-hitter to face a right-handed reliever with at least one runner on base; both were retired. He started a string of matchup-based bullpen moves by pulling top starter Kyle Bradish with two outs in the fifth, with one of those choices resulting in what proved to be the decisive run on a right-on-right home run.
Hyde is the front-runner to be the AL Manager of the Year not only because the Orioles have exceeded all expectations but their own, but also because he has frequently capitalized on Baltimore’s depth, turning to a pinch-hitter or calling upon a reliever to create an ideal matchup. He operated the same way in Saturday’s defeat, only for the understandable process to lead to poor results.
“We had a lot of games late in the season where we were making a lot of pitching changes, a lot of pinch-runners, a lot of pinch hitters, too,” outfielder Austin Hays said. “It’s kind of the style of baseball we’ve been playing all year, so didn’t really feel like there was anything totally different that we hadn’t seen today. That’s just kind of how our team is built, to have to make those moves. Nothing out of the ordinary today. We kind of used everybody just like we always do.”
The approach has in many ways been what fueled Baltimore to its first division title in nine years, with an offense having a mentality of one through 14 and a bullpen that hardly missed a step despite losing All-Star closer Félix Bautista to a season-ending elbow injury.
Hyde had to be tactical even before Saturday’s game began. The Rangers didn’t announce left-hander Andrew Heaney as their starting pitcher until Friday night; Hyde said he had multiple lineups prepared dependent on who Texas went with in the series opener. The result was largely his typical lineup against left-handed starters absent Jorge Mateo, choosing to leave the speedster on the bench for a potential pinch-runner situation.
Joining him among reserves were Ryan O’Hearn and Adam Frazier, fixtures in Hyde’s lineups opposite right-handed pitchers who rarely have made appearances with the platoon disadvantage. But both made their way into Saturday’s game as pinch hitters to face right-handed relievers, which has often been the case this year.
“They give me a couple spots in the lineup and the situations that I might potentially be used,” O’Hearn said. “My job is to stay ready, and obviously, things can happen fast, so pretty much from the third inning on, as soon as guys started moving in the ‘pen down there, I’m ready to go.”
Heaney faced 14 batters, getting through left-handed-hitting rookie Gunnar Henderson two times before Texas manager Bruce Bochy went to right-hander Dane Dunning to face switch-hitter Aaron Hicks, a situation Hyde said he expected. After Hicks walked to put two on with two outs, Hyde sent out Frazier to hit in place of right-handed rookie Jordan Westburg, a swap he made in both directions during the regular season.
It was an understandable move; Frazier’s on-base-plus-slugging percentage against right-handers (.709 in 391 plate appearances) is better than Westburg’s (.676 in 146 plate appearances), while Dunning has had much more success against right-handed batters (.644 OPS allowed) than lefties (.782 OPS allowed). The decision was sound, but Frazier popped up to strand both runners.
O’Hearn likewise didn’t do enough with his opportunity in the eighth, pinch-hitting for Ramón Urías with two outs and Hicks on first. Typically Baltimore’s cleanup hitter against right-handed starters, O’Hearn struck out looking, extending his hitless streak to 24 at-bats.
O’Hearn said Hyde has been “very good” this year at picking spots to go to his bench.
“Sometimes, it pays off. Sometimes, it doesn’t. Unfortunately, today, it didn’t,” O’Hearn said. ” I think there’s been multiple times this year when those moves have worked and come through and helped us. Guys on the bench do a really good job being ready to go whenever their name’s called.
“We’ll go back at it tomorrow, and Fraz and I and whoever else is on the bench … we’ll be ready to go whenever they need us to be.”
The same has applied on the other side of the ball, when Hyde had relievers Danny Coulombe and Jacob Webb getting loose in the fourth inning as Bradish allowed four straight hits and Texas took a two-run lead. He pulled Bradish the next inning with a runner on first and two outs, turning to Coulombe, a left-hander, with two lefties and a switch-hitter due up for the Rangers.
Hyde acknowledged that Bradish, who had thrown 84 pitches, was “still throwing the ball well” when he exited. But the second-year right-hander, whose nine strikeouts were the third most in a postseason debut in Orioles history, didn’t bemoan that choice.
“I completely agree with that decision right there,” Bradish said, noting how successful Coulombe has been this year and the fact the next hitter up, Texas rookie Evan Carter, had already doubled and walked against him.
After Coulombe made it through that three-hitter pocket, Hyde went to Webb with a string of right-handed batters coming up. The first of them, Josh Jung, took Webb deep, providing what became the winning run for Texas.
Despite that outcome, Hyde kept the pattern going. Excluding pinch hitters, 10 of 12 batters an Orioles reliever faced Saturday were the same handedness as them. Jung’s home run was the only run the bullpen allowed in 4 1/3 innings as Baltimore’s staff held the best offense in the AL to three runs but didn’t do enough offensively to top that.
The Orioles weren’t helped by Henderson getting caught stealing in the ninth; he looked back toward home a couple of times while running, and Hyde classified the play as a “miscommunication,” though it’s not clear who specifically that fell on.
“He’s put guys in situations to succeed all year long, and I think he did it again today,” Hays said. “We just came up a little bit short.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Hayes Gardner contributed to this article.
ALDS, Game 2
Rangers at Orioles
Sunday, 4:07 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM