Orioles left-hander Joe Saunders acknowledged he carried some extra adrenaline into his first start with his new team Wednesday night.
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.'
“I thought the only bad pitch was to Rios, and he hit that double. Things just didn't go my way in the first inning. Like I said, I made some good pitches. That's all you can do.”
Saunders allowed leadoff singles in both the second and third innings but was aided by double-play balls in both innings.
“I just told myself, ‘Just keep making pitches and things are going to start going your way,’” Saunders said. “I tried to keep the team in the ballgame as best I could. They turned some double plays for me, but I just fell short today.”
Gordon Beckham, the No. 9 hitter, put the White Sox up 5-0 in the fourth on a two-out RBI double in the fourth off reliever Kevin Gregg, a hit that came after Wieters dropped a foul pop-up off the bat of catcher Tyler Flowers with a runner on first and one out.
Flowers later moved the runner to second on a ground out, chasing Saunders from the game. Beckham then singled to allow two inherited runners to score.
Beckham, who had three hits and drove in three runs, added a two-run single in the sixth. Ramirez also had three hits.
Axelrod’s run of 13 straight retired batters began after the Orioles had runners on first and second with no outs in the fourth inning, but back-to-back first-pitch fly outs helped Axelrod avoid a big inning. Orioles second baseman Omar Quintanilla drove in the Orioles’ only run with a sacrifice fly to center that scored Wieters.
In preparing for Axelrod, Showalter said the Orioles studied two of his best outings against the New York Yankees and two starts ago against the Boston Red Sox.
“He's going to mix in just enough fastballs,” Showalter said. “He's got two breaking balls. … Any time you can command two breaking balls and have that type of confidence in them, you're going to have a chance, especially when you've got a little lead to work with where you can create some aggressiveness in hitters.
“You've really got to be patient with him, because you're going to see a steady dose of different breaking balls. Everybody knew it coming in, but getting behind like that certainly didn't help matters."
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