The Orioles ideally wanted to work right-hander Bud Norris back into the rotation gradually as he returned from his trip to the disabled list with a right groin strain, and a key caveat of that in the eyes of manager Buck Showalter was getting Norris two starts before the All-Star break.
Tuesday's rainout at Nationals Park put a wrench in those plans, postponing Norris' first start in 2 1/2 weeks until the Orioles' return to Camden Yards on Wednesday against the Washington Nationals.
Norris' return ended prematurely as he struggled through his shortest outing of the season, failing to get an out in the fifth inning before he was pulled after just 71 pitches to keep alive the possibility of returning on short rest to start Sunday's final game before the break.
Meanwhile, a Nationals team that ranked 10th in the National League in home runs heading into Wednesday, hit three in the game — including two solo shots off Norris — to hand the Orioles a 6-2 loss in front of an announced 35,575 at Camden Yards.
After Orioles fans flooded Nationals Park in orange Monday and waited through a flood Tuesday — that game was postponed after a 2 1/2-hour rain delay — the Orioles returned to Camden Yards to continue their matchup with the Nationals.
Despite the loss, the Orioles remain 2 1/2 games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays, who lost, 8-7, to the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday.
Coming off his first career five-hit game Monday in Washington, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado had three hits, including his ninth homer of the season. But an Orioles team that boasts the second-most homers in baseball, couldn't muster much against Nationals right-hander Doug Fister (8-2), who allowed just two runs over seven innings.
“We didn't get many balls in the air off him,” Showalter said. “Manny hit a changeup. We didn't string much together. He threw a cutter, slider, depending on what type of break he wanted on it. And he worked both sides of it. Some things he's been doing for a while. … Very athletic, great shape, works fast, really creates a really good tempo and atmosphere for defense to be played behind him.”
Before going on the DL, Norris (7-6) was becoming one of the Orioles' most dependable starters, winning his previous four starts, and compiling a 0.92 ERA over his last three outings.
But on Wednesday, Norris, who hadn't pitched since leaving his start June 21 against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, allowed five runs — tying a season-high — in four innings plus two batters. He allowed six hits, struck out two hitters and walked one.
Norris entered the night having allowed 10 homers in 14 starts, the fewest among the Orioles' five starters, but he surrendered solo blasts to catcher Wilson Ramos and shortstop Ian Desmond on Wednesday.
“They put some good swings on it,” Norris said. “I didn't make necessarily my pitch there in those situations, and I need to be a little bit finer. The ball kind of creeped up on me a little bit — thigh-line compared to knee-line. Going back and looking at it, I'm OK with that, and you've got to tip your cap sometimes, but I think there could've been a little rust there, too.”
Both homers off Norris came on 1-2 counts.
“Arm strength was good, stuff was good,” Showalter said. “Just paid for the mistakes he made. We had a little trouble keeping the ball in the park. But hopefully it's something physically to build on. We've seen what he's capable of. He'll get better as we go. … Just kept waiting for him to kind of fall into a rhythm, but he never really seemed to get real comfortable. That will come.”
Norris fell behind, 2-0, just four batters into the game, struggling through a 26-pitch first inning.
With one out, Anthony Rendon hit a ground-rule double down the right-field line. Jayson Werth then just missed a home run by a few feet, hitting a ball near the top of the grounds' crew shed in right field that stayed in the park for an RBI double.
Adam LaRoche then followed with a single just over second baseman Jonathan Schoop into right field to score Werth.
Fister had his share of trouble early as well, needing 31 pitches to get through the first inning, but the Orioles scored just one run off him in the opening frame. Steve Pearce and Nelson Cruz both drew walks before Chris Davis hit a single to drive in Pearce with two outs. But J.J. Hardy flied out to left field to end the inning.
Ramos gave the Nationals a 3-1 lead in the top of the second inning, taking a waist-high, 1-2 fastball deep into the left-field stands for his third homer of the season.
Machado turned on a 1-0 curveball in the fourth inning to homer for the second consecutive game. He has five home runs in his last eight games. Since returning from his five-game suspension, Machado is 12-for-21.
Norris retired six straight hitters following Ramos' homer before Ian Desmond hit his 16th homer of the season with one out in the fourth.
Fister benefited from some fine defense from Rendon at third base. Pearce opened the fifth with a scorching one-hopper down the line that Rendon corralled before he threw to first base for the out.
Trailing, 5-2, the Orioles had runners at the corners with one out in the sixth. But Rendon grabbed a sharp groundball by Caleb Joseph at third base and began an inning-ending double play. The Orioles (49-41) didn't have a base runner for the rest of the night against the Nationals (49-40).
“You'd hope to think that creates some momentum, you never know,” Joseph said of the double play. “We always feel we're in striking distance because we hit so many home runs, and we get guys who get on base. Maybe if that gets by, maybe we'll turn the lineup over, and we get to the top of the order. [Rendon's] been pretty good over there. … They're trying to get him to the All-Star Game. He's a pretty good player, and he made a good play on that. I'd hope that starts a big momentum [shift], but you never know.”
Rendon also barehanded a slow roller off the bat of Nick Markakis in the seventh inning and threw across the diamond to nab him.
Right-hander Brad Brach, who had earned the win in each of his last three relief appearances and had allowed just three hits over 5 2/3 innings in that span, had a 14-inning scoreless streak snapped in the seventh on Jayson Werth's two-out solo homer.
As for Norris, Showalter said he could still start Sunday on three days' rest, especially since he only threw 71 pitches and was initially planned for 80 to 90.
“He never really seemed to get real comfortable,” Showalter said. “That will come. That's why I was hoping to get him two starts before the break. … We'll see what Sunday brings. … As much as you do side work and sim games and stuff like that, there's no substitute for the adrenaline and the challenge of facing major league hitters, especially ones as good as Washington has, so it will get better. We've seen what he's capable of.”
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