They're not looking for seven shutout innings or a complete-game, 10-strikeout masterpiece. The bar has been lowered so significantly already this season that Orioles manager Dave Trembley and pitching coach Rick Kranitz would probably settle for one of their starters getting through six innings and keeping his team in the game.
It doesn't seem like they're asking for too much, even as one Orioles starter after another fails to deliver such an outing. On a chilly Saturday night at Fenway Park, Adam Eaton became the latest Orioles starter to falter. He allowed six earned runs in four innings and put the Orioles in too big of a hole in a 6-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox in front of an announced 37,559.
"Obviously, you'd like to get a little bit more from your starter," Trembley said. "You'd like to keep his pitch count down, and you'd like to keep the run production down. It's early in the season. This is something we have to get better at. We have to get better at giving our guys a chance, because you can't climb that mountain every night. It takes its toll on you."
Trailing 6-0 after four innings, the Orioles (6-5) got four runs in the fifth against Red Sox ace Josh Beckett, three of them scoring on Aubrey Huff's double.
They then brought the go-ahead run to the plate twice during the ninth inning; however, with two men on and one out, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon retired Nick Markakis and Huff for his fourth save.
The loss was the Orioles' third straight and the fourth consecutive game in which they couldn't get five complete innings from their starters. During the past six games since Jeremy Guthrie and three relievers combined to shut out the Tampa Bay Rays on April 11, Orioles starters have a 10.72 ERA and have logged just 18 2/3 innings. During that span, they've allowed 27 earned runs, 43 hits and nine homers, and walked 16.
"There's going to come a time where we're going to get a stretch of games where our starting pitchers shoulder the load," catcher Gregg Zaun said. "I know it's coming. These guys are talented. We've just hit a bad stretch over the past couple of games."
Eaton is 0-2 this year, but his struggles go back much further than that. Including last season, when he pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies, Eaton has gone five straight starts without a quality start and four straight without making it through more than four innings.
"This is a new year," he said. "That's last year, and if you guys want to talk about last year, I also won a World Series ... but that's not here nor there. I'm a Baltimore Oriole now. That's where our concerns lie. I like what we have here. I need to obviously step up and throw the way I'm capable of throwing. We'll see what we do next outing."
Asked whether Eaton has done enough to earn a third outing, Trembley said: "Until we come up with something else or someone else, I'll consult with Kranny and our front office personnel and see which way we're going to go. But I know it's in there for him. I think we all understand that we need to get the job done."
Eaton allowed nine hits and walked two and was tormented by Kevin Youkilis, who hit a three-run homer in the third inning and an RBI single in the fourth that gave the Red Sox a 6-0 lead. Youkilis finished the game 4-for-5 with four RBIs.
Eaton's line after two starts is 10 earned runs (11.25 ERA), 17 hits, six walks and 193 pitches thrown over eight innings.
"Obviously, the results weren't good," he said. "We've got some things to work on."
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