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Orioles bullpen holds on behind Kyle Gibson’s quality start for 4-2 win over Blue Jays in final game before trade deadline

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Much as they do with the approaching trade deadline, the Orioles had numerous options to upgrade their rotation this offseason. Monday’s series opener at the Rogers Centre pitted one of the two they ended up with against one of the many they missed out on.

Working into the seventh inning for his third straight quality start, Baltimore’s Kyle Gibson outpitched Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Chris Bassitt as the Orioles won, 4-2, in their final game before Tuesday’s 6 p.m. deadline.

A beleaguered Orioles bullpen held on behind Gibson, with one of the five outs needed from closer Félix Bautista coming on a diving catch from All-Star left fielder Austin Hays that potentially prevented Toronto from tying the game in the ninth.

Almost eight months after signing Gibson to a one-year, $10 million contract, the Orioles are still looking to improve their starting rotation, and as was the case this offseason, they’ve seen numerous possibilities pass them by. Still, time remains for the front office to strike, and in Gibson’s estimation, a Baltimore team holding the best record in the American League will manage if not.

“Do we have needs? Sure. Are there players that can make our team better? Sure. But I think we have a really darn good baseball team,” Gibson said. “If we don’t make this massive splash or anything like that, then I think this team’s really good.

“I think it’s easy to look around and see moves and to get anxious and get antsy and kind of wait and see where the dominoes are going to fall for us. … But we’re really confident in what we have.”

Bassitt was among this winter’s available starting pitchers, signing a three-year, $63 million contract with Toronto. Had he agreed to the same deal with Baltimore, it would have represented the first guaranteed multiyear contract the Orioles have given to a free agent in five offseasons under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, and it would have marked the largest financial commitment to a pitcher in franchise history.

On Monday, the Orioles (65-41) jumped on him early, scoring two runs on Ryan Mountcastle’s first-inning double. After Gunnar Henderson homered off Bassitt in the third, Mountcastle added a sacrifice fly later in the inning. With Monday’s three RBIs, Mountcastle has driven in 39 runs in 46 career games against the Blue Jays, batting .313 with a .996 OPS. Henderson, who made several standout plays at third base, swatted 12 home runs with a .897 OPS across June and July after hitting five with a .702 OPS through May of his rookie season.

Bassitt responded with three scoreless frames, leaving him with a 4.00 ERA that bests the 4.53 mark Gibson left the mound with after six-plus innings of one-run ball. But in a matching number of starts, Gibson has thrown more innings than Bassitt, posting a higher WAR, according to FanGraphs, and a lower FIP — an ERA-like metric that accounts only for aspects in a pitcher’s control such as home runs, strikeouts and walks.

Over three straight outings on the road against playoff contenders, Gibson has posted a 3.00 ERA with 18 strikeouts against three walks while going six innings in each.

Like Bassitt, Gibson found himself in trouble in the first, but shortstop Jorge Mateo ranged to his left and flipped to second for an inning-ending force out. That began a run in which Gibson retired nine of 10 Blue Jays (59-48), with the only batter to reach against him being shortstop Bo Bichette, who was tagged out between first and second after suffering a right knee injury while running out his hit.

Consecutive singles opened the fifth and led to Toronto’s lone run off Gibson, but he retired six straight hitters before a walk to Matt Chapman ended his outing after 97 pitches.

Gibson has frequently provided the veteran dependability the Orioles hoped for when they signed him in December, but their other four rotation spots have often been filled with starters early in their careers. Already, Tyler Wells has been sent to the minors for a rest and reset, with his next turn in the rotation, scheduled for Thursday’s finale of this four-game matchup, set to be handled by either Cole Irvin — Baltimore’s only other offseason rotation addition, acquired in a trade with Oakland — or another trade acquisition if one comes together by Tuesday’s deadline.

The frames that followed Gibson’s work showed Baltimore’s pitching needs aren’t in only the rotation. Danny Coulombe closed Gibson’s line, issuing a walk of his own before retiring the Blue Jays in the seventh. But working for the third time in four days after pitching with the Orioles up six runs in the ninth inning Sunday, All-Star reliever Yennier Cano allowed a home run to Whit Merrifield to open the eighth before issuing a pair of one-out walks. Cano, who has pitched in more than half of Baltimore’s games since joining their bullpen in mid-April, has allowed seven earned runs over his past 13 1/3 innings.

Cano’s ineffectiveness prompted manager Brandon Hyde to ask Bautista, his All-Star closer, for a five-out save. He stranded Cano’s runners, then found himself needing to do the same for his own pair after issuing two free passes in the ninth. Hays’ diving catch to rob Merrifield recorded the frame’s second out and saved the game. Noting the circumstances, Hays said the play was “the best catch I’ve ever made,” crediting center fielder Colton Cowser for backing him up as he went airborne.

“I’m looking for Cowser and I don’t see him,” Hyde said. “So then I’m praying for Hays.”

Bautista then struck out Santiago Espinal, who replaced Bichette, to end the game. Both he and Cano will likely be unavailable for Tuesday’s game, possibly leaving Shintaro Fujinami — the electric right-hander who has been Baltimore’s lone trade acquisition thus far this summer — as a possibility to close should the Orioles have a late lead. Regardless, the continued usage of Bautista and Cano shows the need for Hyde to have additional reliable relief options, either via external acquisitions or internal emergences.

“These guys have been so good for us,” Hyde said. “I pretty much pitch the same guys when we have the lead because our leads are usually pretty close, and we’ve got to try to find some other guys to do that, honestly. Especially these division games, you want to try to get these wins, but it’s been challenging. These guys have answered the bell and done an amazing job up to this point.”

Monday left the Orioles one victory from guaranteeing a winning record against Toronto for the first time since 2017, having claimed the season series with the New York Yankees for the first time since 2016 with Sunday’s victory. Those records could play key roles if a tiebreaker is necessary for playoff positioning, but the Orioles are focused on winning the game in front of them. None remain between them and the trade deadline.

“There’s teams that absolutely need to play well around the deadline, but I don’t think this is one of those teams,” Gibson said. “I think we just want to play ball so we can keep going in the right direction.”

Around the horn

  • Injured relievers Keegan Akin (lower back discomfort) and Mychal Givens (right shoulder inflammation) pitched an inning each Monday in rehabilitation outings in the Florida Complex League. Akin allowed three runs on four hits with a strikeout. Givens struck out two while giving up a hit.
  • Two Orioles minor leaguers were named the pitcher of the week for their respective leagues. Triple-A Norfolk right-hander Chayce McDermott, Baltimore’s No. 15 prospect according to Baseball America, struck out seven over five scoreless innings in one relief appearance. Low-A Delmarva left-hander Luis De León pitched six shutout innings — five coming in a hit-free relief outing — with eight strikeouts.

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