Orioles right-hander David Hernandez said he isn't tired and doesn't believe he has hit the proverbial rookie wall in this, the longest season he has pitched in his pro career.
The numbers say otherwise.
It was the second consecutive outing in which Hernandez failed to get at least 10 outs and the third straight in which he has allowed at least five runs. In his first 13 big league starts, Hernandez (4-8) had yielded five runs or more only three times.
"It's just a matter of making pitches," Hernandez said. "What it comes down to is, if you make the pitches you are going to be in good shape. Tonight, I just wasn't able to finish the innings and make quality pitches."
It's an alarming trend for the 24-year-old.
He is 1-6 with a 7.86 ERA in his past nine starts after beginning the season 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA. Despite Monday's quick outing, he set his career high in innings pitched for a season.
He has thrown 146 1/3 innings in 2009, including 85 for the Orioles. His previous high was 145 1/3 in both 2006 and 2007, when his minor league seasons ended by Labor Day.
"It doesn't feel like I have pitched more than I have in recent years," he said.
But he's in the big leagues, the season is continuing and Hernandez is still being asked to pitch. There's no alternative, really. The Orioles (58-85) officially shut down 21-year-old rookie Brian Matusz on Monday, but that's because this is his first pro season.
"The goal is to prepare the guys to pitch and play into October. It's not Labor Day," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "Labor Day season ends the minor leagues. You don't prepare people for that. And you don't come to spring training with the mindset that you're only going to play until 162."
In front of an announced crowd of 10,628, the Orioles staked Hernandez to a 4-1 lead in the first on four singles and a walk against Tampa Bay left-hander David Price (8-7). But Hernandez couldn't hold it, getting two quick outs before allowing a single and Reid Brignac's first big league homer in the second.
The Rays then strung together two doubles to tie the game. They went ahead in the fourth on B.J. Upton's solo homer against Hernandez and never relinquished the lead. It was the 19th homer Hernandez has given up in his past nine games - after allowing four in his first seven starts.
"He's not making good pitches. That's the thing," pitching coach Rick Kranitz said. "His fastball doesn't have the same [late movement] it did early, and that's why you see some of these balls that are put in play or hit hard, they were probably outs earlier [this year]. Some of that has to do with confidence and just not making good pitches."
Once the Rays came back, Price settled, retiring 14 of 15 Orioles at one point. He allowed seven hits and four runs (three earned) through seven innings.
"Early in the game, he was working outside and the ball was coming back over the plate," Melvin Mora said. "After that, he stayed on top of the ball. He was going after everybody."
The Rays sealed the win with a three-run fifth that included two Orioles throwing errors on one play. Left fielder Nolan Reimold's throw home sailed wildly toward the Orioles' dugout. Reliever Brian Bass retrieved the ball and then threw it beyond third base to allow another run to score.
It was that kind of night for the Orioles.
One in which a young starter again failed to pitch deep but also refused to make excuses.
"You've got to make better pitches. It's right there in front of you," Kranitz said. "When you see he is one pitch away from getting out of an inning, he has to get out of that inning. I don't like using 'I am tired' or 'I have had too many innings' as a crutch. It shouldn't be that way."