Bruce Zimmermann walked back to the dugout during the sixth inning Friday night and headed straight to the bench. He put a white towel beneath him and sat down leaning forward, his head looking straight to the ground.

It’s maybe the worst stretch of the Orioles’ left-hander’s young big league career, and his best pitch isn’t working.

Doing damage off Zimmermann’s changeup, the Cleveland Guardians got to him quickly with five runs in the first three innings to beat the Orioles, 6-3.

“I thought his stuff got a little sharper,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Just the first few innings there for me didn’t have the bite to his slider. The changeup didn’t have the depth that it had earlier in the season.”

Two months ago, Zimmermann pitched brilliantly as the starter for the Orioles’ home opener. It started a wave of momentum for the Baltimore native in his home ballpark. In his first six starts, Zimmermann had a 2.67 ERA, striking out 30 and allowing just one home run.

In his five starts since, Zimmermann has registered a 7.62 ERA over 26 innings. He’s allowed as many home runs as batters he’s struck out (12). It’s been a steep decline after a season that began with such promise. The Orioles (22-32) went 4-2 in his first six starts. They’ve gone 1-4 in the five since.

After poor starts against the Yankees and Red Sox in late May, Zimmermann and the Orioles staff thought there might be a “tell” to opposing hitters based on the different ways he came set. That led to a change in his mechanics for Friday’s start, which Zimmermann said was tough to get used to at first.

“Going into the next start, that’s definitely one of the focuses, to be able to come out, slam the door shut in the first one or two innings,” Zimmermann said. “Treat it like a relief appearance.”

Zimmermann is a changeup pitcher, with nearly an even split on the season between that pitch and his fastball. On Friday, he threw his changeup just 29% of the time, but it’s the pitch the Guardians jumped on early and often. Six of the 10 hits Zimmermann allowed came against his changeup, all of which were hit hard, with exit velocities over 84 mph. Cleveland second baseman Owen Miller had run-scoring base hits off the pitch in the first and third innings.

Of 17 swings against Zimmermann’s changeup, the Guardians didn’t whiff once. He only induced five overall on 48 Cleveland swings, and he finished the night with 10 hits and five earned runs allowed in 5 2/3 innings.

Baltimore, meanwhile, struggled to get anything going against one of the American League’s best pitches in Shane Bieber, who threw 5 2/3 no-hit innings before designated hitter Trey Mancini singled to left. The right-hander retired 14 straight Orioles during a stretch between the second and sixth frames and finished with three hits allowed and 11 strikeouts.

Mancini also broke up the shutout. He laced a two-out, two-RBI double in the eighth, and right fielder Anthony Santander drove him in on the next pitch to cut the deficit in half to 6-3. Austin Hays, who entered the game with the American League’s longest hitting streak, struck out to end the rally — and end his streak at 13.

Nick Vespi returns to the big leagues

No one wanted to send Vespi back down to Norfolk, especially after the way he pitched in his only MLB appearance.

He got his chance on May 20 in his big league debut and threw two scoreless innings against the Tampa Bay Rays. He allowed one hit and one walk while striking out three and ultimately was credited with the win that day, a 13-inning walk-off 8-6 victory for the Orioles.

“My first outing out here was super exciting,” Vespi said. “It was everything I ever wanted it to be.”

Yet, after he’d pitched so well, he was sent down for a fresh arm in Mike Baumann and to make room for first baseman Ryan Mountcastle’s return from the injured list. His first time with the Orioles gave Vespi confidence, and in turn it motivated him to get back to Baltimore.

“When I went back down, I was looking forward to this day again, and hopefully we can stay for a while,” Vespi said.

On Friday, with right-hander Joey Krehbiel headed to the disabled list, Hyde brought Vespi back.

“As we just start getting more talented at your upper level, start getting more talent in the big leagues, start making tougher decisions,” Hyde said. “But as well as having talented guys at Triple-A to call up. So we’re excited to bring him back up as a bullpen option.”

Around the horn

  • In addition to calling up Vespi, the Orioles also recalled infielder Tyler Nevin, and infielder Chris Owings was placed on the bereavement list.
  • Krehbiel was placed on the 15-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation. Krehbiel said before Friday’s game the injury is nothing serious and he did not get an MRI. He said it “sucks” in the short term, but being careful now is better in the bigger picture.
  • Infielder Jahmai Jones, who the Orioles acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels for Alex Cobb in February 2021, was placed on unconditional release waivers.

GUARDIANS@ORIOLES

Saturday, 4:05 p.m.

TV: MASN2

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

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