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Jorge Mateo, Austin Hays give Orioles a jolt in return to back up Albert Suárez in 4-0 win over Braves

BALTIMORE — Jorge Mateo moonlighted as Gunnar Henderson on Tuesday night and played the part just fine.

It was a scheduled day off for Henderson, who started all but one previous game this season at shortstop. Mateo has started 32 at second base, but after a stint on the 7-day concussion injured list, he slid over to cover for Baltimore’s home run leader in his first game back in the lineup.

Mateo’s first at-bat? He sent a curveball sailing 402 feet over the center-field wall in the second inning. It was a three-run homer and a shot in the arm for Baltimore’s offense, which outscored the Atlanta Braves, 4-0, for a fifth straight win. That matches the Orioles’ longest streak of the season and improved the club to 44-22.

The last action Mateo saw was June 2, during a home series with the Tampa Bay Rays. He approached the on-deck circle when Cedric Mullins accidentally whacked the back of his head with his bat. Mateo skipped any reacclimation stage getting back in the lineup. He did his best Henderson impression with a home run his first time up but grounded and popped out in his only other chances at the plate.

With just that three-run swing, Braves starting pitcher Max Fried — who allowed four runs on six hits with three strikeouts and two walks — gave up as many runs as he had over his past three starts combined. And no team across the league has gotten more home runs from its shortstop position than Baltimore: Henderson accounts for 21, and Mateo barreled the 22nd.

Manager Brandon Hyde was relieved to give Henderson his first day off. Hyde had a plan but wasn’t sure it would unfold this way. “I want him to do nothing today,” he said before the game. “I want him to sit in that massage chair until about 8:30, then take a few swings and see if we need him off the bench.”

“Usually it doesn’t work out that way,” Hyde added, but it did in this series opener, in part thanks to Mateo’s performance.

But Mateo wasn’t the only returner Tuesday night who seamlessly worked his way back into the lineup.

Outfielder Austin Hays missed three of the Orioles’ past four games after being struck by a pitch in the ribs on Thursday. A pair of separate injuries and a slump have followed Hays much of this season’s opening months. This first game back from a brief absence was a clear step back to form, with three singles in four at-bats.

The 2023 All-Star recorded his first three-hit game since Sept. 6, 2023. Hays had four hits that day against the Los Angeles Angels.

On Tuesday, in front of 24,048 fans, he recorded the first hit of the evening, pushing Anthony Santander to second, and they both came around to score on Mateo’s homer. Back up in the sixth with two on and no outs, Hays singled to left. That scored Ryan Mountcastle after an error by Jarred Kelenic.

Baltimore’s offense, as it has been so often lately, gave plenty of run support to its pitching staff.

Starter Albert Suárez saw early signs of trouble but each time roamed back to the dugout unscathed. The 34-year-old right-hander pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings with four strikeouts, surrendering four hits and three walks.

He gave up a leadoff triple to Michael Harris II that caromed off the right-field wall past Santander’s extended mitt. Harris didn’t move from there, as Suárez sat down the next three batters. He faced a similar situation in the second, walking two batters who advanced to scoring position, but kept the Braves at bay.

Against Suárez, Atlanta was 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and stranded five runners. Suárez escaped one jam after another.

Orioles fans greeted Suárez with a standing ovation as he walked off the mound, wrapping another masterful performance as a pleasant surprise addition to an injury-shaken pitching rotation. Suárez’s ERA is now 1.61. If he met the criteria to qualify for MLB leaderboards (one inning for every game his team played), that would be the best in baseball.

The bullpen faced yet another curfuffle when left-handed reliever Danny Coulombe was sent to the 15-day IL with left elbow inflammation. Righty reliever Bryan Baker was recalled in a corresponding move.

Hyde cycled through Jacob Webb (1 1/3 innings), Yennier Cano (1/3), Cionel Pérez (1) and Dillon Tate (1) in relief against the Braves, and they combined for five strikeouts to seal the Orioles’ sixth shutout of the season.

Tuesday marked the ninth straight game in which the Orioles’ bullpen did not allow an earned run. Tate was the last to give one up June 2, but he elicited roars from the home crowd with a strikeout to finish the Braves.