The Orioles started a fresh half of baseball at U.S. Cellular Field on Friday night, but the same old problems from the past three-plus months followed them.
Rookie starter Jason Berken again had to be pulled early, the staff as a whole yielded three homers and the Orioles' offense was potent but failed to take advantage of a few early opportunities in a 12-8 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
"Somebody asked me today [before the game] what I thought we really needed to improve on," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "And we said our starting pitchers need to go deeper in the games so we don't have to go to the bullpen early. And we didn't do that. We didn't do that."
There was one other familiar wrinkle Friday night: The White Sox once again unleashed Jim Thome on the Orioles.
Thome had a career-high seven RBIs on two swings, a three-run homer in the fifth that chased Berken and a 443-foot grand slam in the sixth against Danys Baez, the longest shot at U.S. Cellular Field this year.
The blast was Thome's first grand slam since July 6, 2006 - naturally, that one came against the Orioles as well.
"The guy is going to the Hall of Fame," Trembley said. "He is a hitter that knows how to do it with guys on base."
Thome, who has 557 career home runs, has hit 28 homers and driven in 95 RBIs in 412 career at-bats versus the Orioles. Despite spending three seasons in the National League, Thome is tied for eighth among active Orioles opponents in RBIs and tied for fifth in home runs. He has homered every 14.7 at-bats.
Berken was victimized on a 2-0 count when he tried to throw a fastball inside.
"I left it too much over the plate, and anytime you are in a 2-0 count with a hitter like Jim Thome you have to be pretty good with your pitch," Berken said. "You can't get away with mistakes to guys like him."
The Orioles (40-49) dropped to 14-28 on the road and have lost eight of their past 11 - no American League team has won fewer games away from home in 2009.
Paul Konerko also homered Friday, bringing the Orioles' total of homers allowed to 109, second worst in the AL.
Thome's grand slam gave the White Sox a five-run lead, a deficit that produced a curious decision by Trembley.
Baez finished the sixth but was replaced in the seventh by Rich Hill, who will remain Tuesday's starter in New York against the Yankees. Hill hadn't pitched since July 11, and Trembley said he wanted to get Hill at least an inning of work before his start.
"He needed to pitch. He needed to face some hitters instead of not pitching for 10 days [in between starts]," Trembley said. "It was a good opportunity for him."
It was Hill's first relief appearance as an Oriole and first in the big leagues since Aug. 15, 2006, when he was with the Cubs.
He didn't fare well in the unfamiliar role. Hill walked the first batter he faced, recorded just one out - a sacrifice fly - and was charged with two runs. He threw 20 pitches, 11 for strikes.
Berken (1-7) hasn't won since his big league debut May 26, a span of nine starts. He lasted 4 1/3 innings, giving up six earned runs, and has pitched six complete innings just once in his past eight starts.
"It didn't look like he finished his pitches," Trembley said.
Relievers Matt Albers, Baez and Hill gave up two runs each.
The shaky pitching wasted a strong offensive effort by the Orioles, who had 14 hits and set a season high with six doubles.
Perhaps the most encouraging signs were homers by Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, breaking long droughts by the club's young star outfielders.
Markakis hit a two-run homer in the third inning off John Danks (8-6) just inside the right-field foul pole for his ninth of the season. It was his first since June 16 against the New York Mets' Mike Pelfrey, a span of 99 homerless at-bats.
Adam Jones, the Orioles lone All-Star, had a two-run homer in the sixth and broke a steak of 112 at-bats without going deep that dated to June 13 versus the Atlanta Braves.
"We did a good job offensively as a team, and that's all you can do," said Luke Scott, whose 11-game hitting streak ended. "It's one game. You want to win every game, but you are going to have games like this."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun