Earlier this year, when Jake Arrieta was named the Orioles' youngest Opening Day starter since Mike Mussina, he talked about the magnitude of the honor and the leadership responsibility it carried.
Feeling fully recovered from August elbow surgery, Arrieta said he was ready for the role, and, on April 6, he pitched a two-hit shutout, backing up his words with his talented right arm.
Two months later, after a 9-6 shellacking Friday night by the scuffling Philadelphia Phillies that perhaps was the worst outing his career, Arrieta is likely out of the rotation and headed to Triple-A Norfolk.
"You have a tough start like that, there's a lot of emotion going around. I am sure by Jake, too. The last thing anybody needs is me weighing in on it publicly," manager Buck Showalter said. "We know Jake is capable of a lot better. But I think everybody knows we expect some of our young pitchers with their experiences, that they've had to graduate to a little bit more consistency."
With the team needing to make a roster move to recall today's starter, Tommy Hunter, from Norfolk, a demotion of Arrieta seems likely.
"I really haven't thought about it," Arrieta said to reporters moments after the game. "Just kind of going over the game in my head, trying to analyze things, probably overthinking things a little bit too much. I'm just kind of lost right now."
The 26-year-old right-hander has been out of sorts most of the season, searching for consistency from start to start and sometimes inning to inning -- failing to make the most of an above-average arsenal that includes a mid-90s fastball. On Friday, he allowed six runs in one inning and then struck out the side in the next.
"It probably tells you there are probably some other things going on besides physical issues," Showalter said. "It's a challenging game. I am sure it is frustrating for Jake because he is in great shape, his arm feels good. There are a lot of things in his corner. But he just can't get it to happen on the field."
Before an announced 40,459 -- with a significant pro-Phillies feel -- Arrieta seemingly hit his nadir, giving up a career-high 11 hits and a career-worst nine runs in just four innings. It was the first time an Orioles starter allowed at least nine runs since Jason Berken did it at Oakland in June 2009. No starter had given up more in one outing since Jason Johnson allowed 12 runs (10 earned) on Aug. 15, 2000, against the Chicago White Sox.
Arrieta (2-8, 6.32 ERA) said it was "by far, yeah, absolutely" the most frustrated he has been in what "easily" is the toughest stretch of his career. He has lost six straight decisions in a span of seven games; last year he won 10 of his 22 starts for the Orioles before being shut down to have a bone spur removed from his elbow.
"Just frustration seems to continue to build, and just having a hard time getting out of it. It's wearing on me a little bit," he said.
After surrendering a run on three softly struck singles in the first, Arrieta imploded in the second with some help from the Orioles' shoddy defense.
The Phillies (29-31), who had lost six straight and hadn't scored more than four runs in any of those games, scored six runs in the second inning while hitting for a team cycle -- and then some. In the second, the Phillies strung together a hit batsman, a single, three doubles, a triple and a homer by former Orioles farmhand Mike Fontenot.
"I didn't command the ball well. Left pitches up," Arrieta said. "Just things didn't go my way, and just a tough inning, real tough inning.
The Orioles weren't charged with an error in the second, but shortstop J.J. Hardy and left fielder Endy Chavez allowed a foul ball to drop between them; first baseman Mark Reynolds couldn't handle a smash by Shane Victorino that went for a two-run double; and center fielder Adam Jones failed to cut off a ball that went to the wall and permitted the speedy Juan Pierre to pick up a triple.
The inability to make a key defensive play certainly didn't provide Arrieta with an extra dose of confidence.
"We didn't exactly help him a little bit," Showalter said. "There were probably a couple plays we should have made that could have shortened that."
After striking out the side in the third, Arrieta served up a two-run homer in the fourth and was replaced in the top of the fifth by lefty Dana Eveland, who pitched three hitless innings as the Orioles attempted to scratch back. They scored five runs against Philadelphia starter Joe Blanton (5-6), including a solo homer by Chris Davis, his 10th, and a two-run double by Robert Andino.
Hardy hit his 11th homer of the season, a two-run shot against reliever Michael Schwimer, in the seventh to cut the Phillies' lead to three runs.
But the Orioles couldn't score again against relievers Antonio Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon.
Despite the Orioles' offensive push, Friday's early deficit was too deep.
"It didn't get off to a great start, down 7-0 in the second inning, but you see the fight in this team," Jones said. "We put up six when we were down by seven right out of the gate. It was too big of a hole to crawl out of, but we sure ... tried to escape it."
The Orioles (32-26) have lost nine of their past 12 and 12 of 17, and fell from first place to third in the American League East with wins Friday night by the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees.
"We're not playing the best baseball right now. We can easily change that around, but it's still a collective effort," Jones said. "We're going to sit on this loss tonight. Everybody in here is [upset] when we came in here after the game."
No one, though, was more affected than Arrieta, who might not get a chance to redeem himself right away.
"I can get big league hitters out. There's no question about that, and I can do it at a high level," he said.
"Just not being able to put it together for a complete start right now in a stretch of four or five outings is very frustrating. I think everyone here knows what I can do. Going out there tonight in front of 40,000 people and having a clubhouse full of guys out there who count on you to go out there, and [you] give it up like that is pretty frustrating."
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