ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Orioles were introduced to the latest jewel of the Tampa Bay Rays' pitching pipeline Friday night.
Rays right-hander Chris Archer, who was making just his sixth career big league start, limited the high-powered Orioles offense to a season-low two hits in a 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay in front of an announced 13,256 at Tropicana Field.
Orioles starter Jason Hammel took a one-run lead into the seventh-inning stretch, but he allowed a two-run homer to Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings in bottom half of the frame.
“There's a fine line there in a game like that, and mistakes get magnified,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Ham deserved a lot better fate.”
Home run or not, Hammel (7-4) pitched well enough to win, recording his third quality start in his last four outings. But the Orioles managed just six base runners against the 24-year-old Archer (1-1), who allowed one run over seven innings.
“He got ahead strike one and he was able to do whatever he wanted,” Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. “We had some pitches to hit and lined out a few times. We found the barrel but you hit it right at somebody. … He went out there and did what he did. So did our guy. Basically it was one pitch that I'm sure Hammel wants back.”
Hammel held the Rays to just three hits through six shutout innings, but he allowed a leadoff single to James Loney on a 0-2 pitch to open the bottom of the seventh.
With the tying run on base with no outs, Jennings said he considered bunting Loney over to second, but instead he attacked a first-pitch fastball just above the knees and sent it over the wall in straightaway center.
“I haven't been hitting the ball well, so I thought about [bunting],” said Jennings, who has hit three of his six homers this season against the Orioles. “But I was able to give myself one pitch. If that didn't work, I thought I'd lay down a bunt.”
Orioles third baseman Manny Machado said he also though Jennings might have been bunting in that situation. Instead, he turned on Hammel's 93-mph fastball and turned the momentum of the game.
“Big league hitters don't miss mistakes too many times,” Hammel said.
Hammel, who had allowed just four base runners going into the seventh and had retired eight straight heading into the seventh, finished the night having allowed two runs on six hits over 6 2/3 innings, striking out three and walking two. In his 13 starts this season, Hammel has gone seven or more innings just once.
Still, Hammel was able to get back on track after a rough outing in his previous start on Saturday, when he allowed three consecutive homers to the Detroit Tigers in the fourth inning of a tied game and then was ejected after a first-pitch slider hit Matt Tuiasosopo near his head.
Hammel entered Friday night 6-0 in seven road starts, but he had received a team-high 7.3 runs per game in his starts. He didn't receive that kind of support Friday night.
“Baseball is a funny game sometimes,” Hammel said. “You can have a pitchers' duel, you can have a slugfest. I like the pitching duel because it's fun, it's suspenseful and it means both guys are on their game and executing pitches. Tonight it just ended up being the one run that cost us and myself, the team, the game. It [stinks], but we have plenty more games to play. It was honestly just a good game tonight.”
The Orioles (34-27) entered the night second in the American League in runs scored and were averaging six runs per game against Tampa Bay (33-27) over the past nine meetings. But the Orioles were baffled by Archer on Friday. They hit just eight balls out of the infield and didn't have a hit after Ryan Flaherty's two-out double in the fifth. Rays pitchers retired 13 of the last 14 batters.
The Orioles' only hit off Archer through his first 42/3 innings was Machado's two-out RBI single up the middle in the third inning that scored Chris Dickerson and gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead. The Orioles stranded runners at first and third that inning.
But that was all the Orioles could manage against the 24-year-old Archer.
“You let a young guy get his feet on the ground and get his confidence going, he knows if they can get to a certain inning with their bullpen,” Showalter said. “Some people say the same thing about us. You had two good teams that played a close game and pitched well on both sides and there was a fine margin for error.”