Joe Saunders rocked in debut as Orioles fall, 8-1, to White Sox
Left-hander gives up seven runs -- six earned -- and 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings
Orioles starting pitcher Joe Saunders reacts after giving up a two-run single to Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez's two-run single in the first inning at Camden Yards. (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun / August 29, 2012)
Saunders grew up in Northern Virginia cheering for the Orioles, and said he spent a handful of times every season at Camden Yards. But his debut as a member of the Orioles didn't lead to positive memories.
The 31-year-old veteran, dealt to the Orioles on Sunday from the Arizona Diamondbacks, allowed four runs in the first inning in a 8-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
The Orioles missed an opportunity to gain ground in the American League East with the loss. The New York Yankees’ afternoon loss to Toronto gave the Orioles a chance to get within 2 ½ games of the AL East lead.
But the Orioles offense was held to just three hits in the loss, snapping the Orioles’ four-game winning streak in front of an announced crowd of 13,098 at Camden Yards.
In Saunders' first start in nine days, five of the first seven hitters reached base on four base hits and a walk. Saunders left after 5 1/3 innings and was charged with seven runs — six of them earned — on 10 hits with four strikeouts and two walks.
“You always want to set a good impression your first time,” Saunders said. “It sucks that that first inning was the first inning. But you’ve got to turn the page quick and look forward to the next start.”
With the loss, the Orioles (71-58) are clinging to a ½-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays for the second AL wild card spot and second place in the AL East.
Over his last three starts, the first two for the Diamondbacks, Saunders – the Orioles’ 11th starting pitcher this season -- has allowed 29 hits and 21 runs over a span of 15 innings for an 12.00 ERA.
“[He’s] probably a little rusty,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Then he settled in and pitched pretty well there. [He] gave up an unearned run. He'll be better. [I] thought second, third and fourth, you can see what he's capable of. His work day, get back in rhythm and schedule, and you'll get to see him be better."
The Orioles were held to three hits by Chicago rookie spot-starter Dylan Axelrod, their lowest hit total since Aug. 5, a span of 22 games.
Axelrod, who was facing the Orioles for the first time, allowed just one run over 7 1/3 innings – his longest outing of the season – and retired 13 straight batters before a J.J. Hardy walked with one out in the eighth.
The 27-year-old rookie frustrated the Orioles, tempting them with a tantalizing high 80s fastball and mixing it with a heavy dose of sliders and curveballs in various counts.
"He was really tough,” designated hitter Chris Davis said. “We knew what we had ahead of us going into the game, [he] wasn't going to overpower us with anything, liked his slider a lot. He mixed it up, changed speeds, and he pounded the strike zone. You've got to tip your hat to him. They came out and swung the bats well, gave him a nice lead. He really didn't need much tonight."
It marked the Orioles’ lowest offensive output at home since they were held to one run on July 28 against the Oakland Athletics, a span of 16 games at Camden Yards.
Saunders, acquired to give the Orioles added starting experience and a third left-hander, was battered early by a White Sox batting order with seven right-handed hitters.
The White Sox (72-57) loaded the bases against Saunders four batters into the game – the only out was a Kevin Youkilis fly out to the warning track in center – before Alex Rios lined a two-run double into the right-center field gap.
Two batters later, Alexei Ramirez slapped an opposite-field single to right that scored two more White Sox runs and put Saunders into an early 4-0 hole.
“I was making good pitches,” Saunders said. “I kind of looked back at [catcher] Matt [Wieters] and said, 'What's going on here?' I had a little adrenaline going on there but I just told myself before the game, 'Try to be yourself and don't try to do too much in your first game.'