So when the club is forced to absorb what was arguably its biggest gut-punch of the season on Saturday — a 10-6 loss to the division rival Tampa Bay Rays in which All-Star closer Jim Johnson blew his second consecutive save opportunity in the ninth inning and the team’s season-worst losing streak stretched to four games — Showalter and his players aren’t pointing fingers of blame. They are just hoping to quickly rekindle what made them successful in the past year-plus.
“I think anytime you’re going through tough stretches, you try to look back to see what was going right when you were winning ballgames and that’s something you never lose, whether it was last year or two years ago,” said Orioles first baseman Chris Davis. “We have guys in here that know how to win. We’ll get back to it.”
The Orioles (23-19) hadn’t lost at least four consecutive games since May 26 to June 1 last year, when they dropped six in a row. This current stretch may be harder to take, however, because the last four have all come at home and because the club’s offense has been surging. The Orioles have had 42 hits and scored 22 runs in those games and haven’t won one.
Most of the recent struggles fall on the starting pitching, which has not lasted five innings or longer in six of their past seven contests. It’s forced the Orioles’ bullpen to throw 29 2/3 innings in those seven games, more than four innings each night.
“If you are going to tell me the rest of the year we are going to get five-inning starts and we’re going to be ahead in the game when they exit, you’d probably take that,” Showalter said. “Because that’s usually not the case when you’re getting five-inning starts.”
Showalter, who is exceptionally careful about putting too much stress on his bullpen, said he does not believe that any of the recent losses is linked directly to a revolving door in the bullpen because of due to his starters’ ineffectiveness.
"I don’t think so. I could take you back through how they’ve been used and you’d see why we think that way, with the rest and the” warming up in the bullpen, Showalter said. “We’ve been very careful, as you see by the pitching moves we make, to not put anybody in harm’s way and we won’t do that. It’s just that right now we’re not pitching well.”
The Orioles, who had won 109 games consecutively when leading at the end of the seventh inning, took a 6-4 lead into the ninth Saturday, thanks to splendid relief from Tommy Hunter (2 2/3 scoreless innings) and Brian Matusz (one out) after the club’s newest starting pitcher, Jair Jurrjens, lasted only five innings, gave up four runs and was still in line for the win.
They handed the ball and the two-run lead to Johnson, whose club-record streak of consecutive games saved in the regular season was snapped at 35 on Tuesday when he gave up four hits and two runs in a 3-2 loss to the San Diego Padres.
After recording one out Saturday, Johnson allowed a one-out homer to Kelly Johnson and then permitted two walks and a broken bat single to load the bases. Rays right fielder Matt Joyce smacked a two-run, go-ahead double to tie a career-high for five RBIs on the night.
“Not getting strike one is a good place to start,” said Johnson said about what went wrong Saturday. “Pitching behind, just not throwing quality pitches. It kind of snowballed back and [I] didn’t obviously make the pitch I needed to. It’s just one of those days where it just didn’t work.”
Two more runs scored when Darren O’Day allowed a double to Ben Zobrist. Five runs were charged to Johnson in 1/3 of an inning in his first appearance since losing to the Padres.
“Different days, different feel and different mistakes made,” he said. “So, they are not related at all except it’s just that they came in back-to-back appearances.”
It sapped the energy from an announced and spirited crowd of 34,685 that chose Camden Yards over Pimlico and the Preakness Stakes — only to see a 4-0 lead in the first inning turn into an eventual loss.
Jurrjens, an All-Star with the Atlanta Braves in 2011 who was 4-1 with a 3.14 ERA in eight starts for the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk, became the Orioles’ 10th starter this season. His fate was similar to several of the others — he threw two perfect innings, ran into trouble in a three-run third and exited prematurely.
“I didn’t achieve the innings I wanted to achieve today,” Jurrjens said. “I felt like the ball was coming out really good, just one bad inning where I gave up three and the shot in the fifth that hit off Nate McLouth was some bad luck.”
Jurrjens was lucky to escape the third inning in which he gave up three doubles and a Joyce homer. Joyce tacked on an RBI double in the fifth when McLouth made a long run and attempted a sliding catch at the left-field line as the ball bounced off his glove.
“I didn’t think it was foul,” McLouth said. “The reason I was upset is because I should have had it.”
It was that kind of game — where victory was constantly within reach and ultimately didn’t happen.
“We’re not clicking great right now, but unfortunately you go through little spells in a season like we play,” McLouth said. “There’s no sense of sitting here and beating yourselves up about it.”
After scoring 10 runs Friday in a loss to the Rays, the Orioles plated four to start Saturday against Tampa Bay right-hander Roberto Hernandez, sending 10 batters to the plate. The big blows were back-to-back homers by Adam Jones and Chris Davis — only the second time this season the Orioles have hit consecutive homers.
Hernandez lasted just two-plus innings, the shortest outing of the season by any Rays’ starter and uncharacteristically quick for the veteran right-hander, who had pitched six or more innings in six of his first seven appearances this season.
And yet that barrage was wasted by a pitching staff stumbling through the last week or more.
“It’s definitely exhausting to put up that many runs and come away with two losses, especially after that series we just came off with San Diego,” Davis said. “I think we got the wind taken out of our sails a little bit. [We’ll] rally together and try to get something going.”