Matt Albers, one of the Orioles' most effective pitchers when he was healthy last season, was jettisoned to Triple-A Norfolk late Saturday night because the club needed a roster spot for Adam Eaton and didn't want to risk losing Brian Bass.
Albers had a minor league option remaining, while Bass did not and would have been exposed to waivers before heading to the minors. The decision, which team officials acknowledged was more about business than baseball, might well turn out to be the right one, but it didn't look good Sunday, when the Tampa Bay Rays teed off on Eaton and Bass and avoided a three-game sweep.
Eaton, making his first big league start since July and his Orioles debut after he was released by the Philadelphia Phillies, allowed four earned runs and needed 100 pitches to navigate through four laborious innings. He was followed by Bass, who gave up four home runs and seven runs overall in the Rays' 11-3 hammering of the Orioles before an announced Easter crowd of 15,531 at chilly Camden Yards.
"I think you've got to just accept today for what it was and move on," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said.
The lopsided loss left the Orioles with a still-impressive 4-2 record at the end of the season-opening homestand after series victories over the New York Yankees and the reigning American League champion Rays. However, the performances by Eaton and Bass re-ignited the concerns about the team's pitching staff heading into a road trip on which the Orioles will face the hitting-happy Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox.
"Eaton was better today, from the standpoint [of] his velocity," Trembley said. "But he hadn't pitched in a while, so let's not pass judgment on him. With Bass, it's more of a confidence thing that I see with him. He got hit around his first time and came in a situation today when I needed to go with him as long as we possibly could. ... But we expect him to throw better than he has, and I'm sure he does, too."
The Orioles managed just three hits in seven scoreless innings by Rays ace James Shields, who is 5-1 with a 2.97 ERA in 13 career appearances against them. They were in danger of getting shut out before scoring three times in the ninth inning against Grant Balfour.
But the Orioles were on their heels from the outset, perhaps because of Eaton's 27-pitch first inning that resulted in two hits, a stolen base and a wild pitch but no Rays runs. That changed in the second, when Carl Crawford hit a three-run triple and Evan Longoria scored him with a double. By the end of the second, Eaton's pitch count was at 60, compared with 20 for Shields.
"I wasn't laboring," said Eaton, who allowed eight hits, walked two and struck out six. "Laboring is when you're kind of struggling with stuff. For the most part, I had everything going. I'd get them to two strikes, but [had trouble] having them put it in play. ... If I have that stuff every time out, I'd feel good about our chances."
Despite giving up homers to Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, Longoria and Carlos Pena, Bass also said he feels he has been better than results indicate. In two appearances spanning 5 1/3 innings, Bass has allowed 12 runs (10 earned), 13 hits and five home runs.
"I've had two outings in a row where it's just like scratching your head, going, 'What's going on?' " he said. "But I feel like I'm throwing the ball pretty well."
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