Cole Irvin’s season didn’t start the way he wanted. After coming over from Oakland in a trade, Irvin had a 10.66 ERA in his first three starts, and he was sent down to Triple-A.
His return as a starter Saturday didn’t begin the way he would’ve hoped, either. He gave up singles to two of the first three batters, putting himself in a position he routinely found himself in at the beginning of April — pitching with his back against the wall.
Fittingly, it was a stellar grab up against the wall from right fielder Anthony Santander that allowed Irvin to leave the first inning with a zero on the board and a weight off his shoulders.
Irvin and his defense were stellar for the remainder of his start, as the left-hander pitched 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball to earn his first win as an Oriole in Baltimore’s 6-1 victory over the visiting Kansas City Royals.
Irvin raised his arms exuberantly and tipped his cap to Santander, who received roaring cheers from the announced 34,136 in attendance. He later tipped his cap to center fielder Aaron Hicks for a sliding catch in the second inning and to second baseman Adam Frazier for a jump throw in the third.
While his defense was outstanding, Irvin was sharp in his own right. He scattered six hits and struck out five, pairing his sinker and changeup to great effect. He didn’t walk a batter, which should be expected for someone with his strike-throwing pedigree from his days with the Athletics, but he struggled commanding his pitches early this season. Fifty-five of Irvin’s 72 pitches were strikes.
Simply put, Irvin looked like the Cole Irvin the Orioles thought they were getting when they traded infield prospect Darell Hernaiz for him in January.
Five Orioles drove in runs in the win. Santander and Ryan O’Hearn both had RBI hits in the first. Gunnar Henderson, hitting in the leadoff spot for the first time this season, homered in the second. Austin Hays hit an RBI single in the fifth, and Frazier blasted a two-run homer in the eighth.
Irvin was pulled about 25 pitches earlier than expected, but the bullpen backed him up. Bryan Baker, Austin Voth, Cionel Pérez and Mike Baumann combined to pitch 3 2/3 scoreless innings. Their success, as well as the insurance runs from Hays and Frazier, were crucial given the fact that back-end relievers Yennier Cano and Félix Bautista were unavailable after pitching the past two nights.
The Orioles are 40-24. They didn’t win their 40th game last year until July 7. In 2018, 2019 and 2021 — seasons in which the club lost 100-plus games — Baltimore didn’t get to 40 wins until late August.
Kyle Gibson and the Orioles will go for a series sweep over the Royals (18-46) on Sunday afternoon.
Henderson has led off three times in his young major league career. He’s homered in two of those games.
With Cedric Mullins on the injured list, manager Brandon Hyde picked his youngest player to lead off Saturday’s game. Henderson, 21, led off twice in September after his late-season call-up, hitting a homer in the first game he batted there. In his second at-bat Saturday, he launched a first-pitch slider 408 feet into the Orioles’ bullpen in left-center field to put Baltimore up 3-0.
The fact that Hyde is comfortable putting Henderson, who went 2-for-4 Saturday, in the leadoff spot is a result of the rookie starting to heat up at the plate after a slow start, as well as his plate discipline. Henderson also led off in Triple-A last season.
“He’s led off a little bit in the minor leagues. With his on-base profile and the way he’s swinging the bat right now, it feels right for the time,” Hyde said. “I felt like he was doing good at the plate and comfortable in the batter’s box.”
The infielder spent most of the season hitting below .200, but he entered Saturday with an .874 OPS since May 8. In his past 26 at-bats, Henderson has 10 hits with three home runs.
“I know it just takes some time to get my feet up under me here at the big league level because I’ve never had to start a season here,” Henderson said. “It’s a little bit different in minor leagues you can get your feet up under you a little bit quicker. Here, you’re facing the best pitchers day in and day out. I knew it would take a little time.”
This story will be updated.
Royals at Orioles
Sunday, 1:35 p.m.
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