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Orioles struggle offensively in 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night

Just about every time the Tampa Bay Rays have been mentioned to Buck Showalter in the past month, he can't help but talk about Drew Smyly, the left-handed starter the Rays received from the Detroit Tigers in last month's blockbuster deal that included All-Star left-hander David Price.

Showalter has gushed about Smyly for parts of three seasons. The Orioles had inquired about his availability periodically during that span, but they never could land him.

Based on his performance in the Rays' 3-1 victory Wednesday at Camden Yards, the Orioles can't be happy about facing Smyly a whole lot over the next four-plus seasons.

“He's a good young pitcher, and we'll see what the future holds,” Showalter said. “Detroit knew what they were giving up, and Tampa knew what they were giving up [with Price]. Certainly, the future looks bright for him and Tampa having him in the rotation, but we'll see what baseball longevity has to say. He obviously has a chance to be a good one. Already is.”

The game, played before an announced 20,762, was a matchup of two promising young hurlers, but the Orioles' Kevin Gausman didn't hold up his end. The rookie lasted just four innings, tying the shortest outing of his career, primarily because he threw an inefficient 57 pitches in his first two frames and 80 overall.

“I knew it was going to be a pitchers' duel, and I wish it would have been, but I just kind of struggled early on,” said Gausman, who allowed six hits and three runs (two earned) while striking out four batters. “They had some hits fall in some good spots, and they also hit the ball pretty hard right at some guys also.”

Gausman (7-6) was optioned to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Orioles after the game, but the demotion was procedural, not punitive. The GCL regular season ends Thursday, and Gausman will be back by Monday when rosters expand. Meanwhile the Orioles can add another player to the 25-man roster for the next four days.

Gausman will not miss a turn in the Orioles' rotation. He could start Monday against the Minnesota Twins or Tuesday when the Cincinnati Reds come into town. He is currently penciled in for Monday's start, but the Orioles are also considering putting Ubaldo Jimenez back in the rotation for a turn this weekend against the Twins, whom he has had success against in the past (4-3, 2.45 ERA in seven starts).

On Wednesday, Gausman and the Orioles were no match for Tampa Bay's 25-year-old left-hander. Smyly issued a walk to Steve Pearce in the first inning, a solo homer to Chris Davis in the second and a single to Pearce in the sixth.

That would be all the offense Smyly (9-10, 3-1 with the Rays) would surrender through seven innings while striking out six. He has pitched consecutive two-hitters; his previous one was a shutout Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

With the loss, the Orioles (75-56) now hold a six-game lead over the New York Yankees and are nine up on the third-place Blue Jays in the American League East. Both the Yankees and the Blue Jays won Wednesday night. The fourth-place Rays (65-68) are 11 games back and hope to split the four-game series with a win Thursday.

The Orioles have dropped four of their past six games, scoring just five runs in those losses while totaling 13 runs in their two victories, both against Tampa Bay.

Smyly was a significant reason for the Orioles' cold bats Wednesday. In five starts with the Rays since his July 31 trade, Smyly has a 1.50 ERA, allowing 18 hits, seven walks and 29 strikeouts in 36 innings.

Against the AL East in his career, he is 6-0 with a 1.33 ERA in 18 appearances (seven starts), and versus the Orioles he is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings. He has allowed just two runs in those five appearances: a solo homer to Adam Jones on May 13 and Davis' blast in the second inning Wednesday. That homer snapped Smyly's 16-inning scoreless streak that began Aug. 16.

“He's got four good pitches. It's a little bit funky. It's a little bit different,” shortstop J.J. Hardy said. “He throws it right over the top, good downhill plane on the fastball, was getting in on guys, and then throwing a little slider down and in to righties and a pretty good curveball. All these guys over there, every night we go into it thinking it's going to be a challenge. And tonight he threw the ball very well.”

How much did Smyly flummox the Orioles?

They had one pitch all night with a runner in scoring position, and Jones swung through it for an inning-ending strikeout in the sixth. After Davis' homer, his 23rd of the season, Smyly retired 12 straight batters before Pearce's single.

He threw 87 pitches in seven innings -- just seven more than Gausman did in four innings. The Rays scored three batters into the game against Gausman, who struck out leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings on three pitches. Ben Zobrist then doubled to right field and moved to third on a wild pitch.

Matt Joyce followed with a sharp grounder to second that should have been an easy second out. But rookie second baseman Jonathan Schoop tried to go home to get Zobrist and was late on the throw. Zobrist scored and Joyce was safe at first.

“I thought I had a chance at home because the ball was so hard hit. As soon as I got the ball, I said, 'I'm going home with it,'” Schoop said. “I would do it again, especially if the ball is hit hard like that, and I think I have a chance, I'll go for it.”

Showalter said he was OK with Schoop's decision.

“I applaud him for having the guts to try and make that play. It was real close looking back at the replay,” Showalter said. “It's unconventional, but not many second basemen have Jon's arm strength and the want-to to try and make a play.”

Evan Longoria and James Loney followed with consecutive singles against Gausman, which should have created a mess. But the Orioles caught a break when the usually fundamentally sound Longoria failed to see that Joyce had been held up on Loney's hit.

Longoria raced to third, saw Joyce standing there and then was tagged out by Davis. Joyce scored the Rays' second run on a bloop single by Wil Myers. They added a third run on a sacrifice fly in the second by Zobrist, a run that was set up by shortstop Hardy's throwing error.

Orioles relievers T.J. McFarland, Tommy Hunter and Darren O'Day -- on his T-shirt night -- combined for five scoreless innings. But Tampa Bay relievers Brad Boxberger and closer Jake McGee also didn't allow a run in two perfect innings. McGee picked up his 15th save with a scoreless ninth.

And Smyly, who technically will have to replace Price in Tampa Bay, stayed perfect against the AL East, where he could make his home for a long time.

“David Price is one of the best in the game. It's nice we don't have to see him all the time,” Hardy said. “Smyly's a great pitcher. It doesn't get much easier.”

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

twitter.com/danconnollysun

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