By Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun
11:22 PM EDT, May 30, 2012
The Orioles couldn't get out of Canada any faster Wednesday night. The first leg of their three-city, nine-game road trip couldn't have gone any worse.
With their starting pitching reeling and questions about the health of two of their top players, being swept out of Rogers Centre was just the beginning.
After winning five of six games against the Blue Jays last month, including two of three in a mid-April series here — the once-high-flying Orioles now have their wings clipped.
The Orioles dropped their season-high fifth straight game, 4-1, to the Blue Jays to end this series — the latest setback in a swing of eight losses in their past 10 games.
By the end of the night, the Orioles were still tied for first place in the American League East with the Tampa Bay Rays, but all five teams in the division are separated by a mere 2 1/2 games. That means that if the Orioles don't find their winning ways soon, they could very quickly go from first to worst.
“No, I'm real proud of them,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “We've played one-third of a six-month season. They'll wake up tomorrow and see they're in first place, or tied for it. We've got two-thirds of a season left. They're some baseball-playing son of a guns, and I'm proud to be around them."
The Orioles (29-22) managed just four hits, only one after the third inning. It was the second time they had been held to one or no runs this season, the first time since an 8-1 road loss to the Chicago White Sox.
"I think this day off [Thursday] might be needed, just to clear our heads, relax and then come out Friday with a little more energy," said center fielder Adam Jones, who finished 0-for-2 with a walk and a hit by pitch, ending his career-high 20-game hitting streak, the longest in the majors this season. "Put is behind us because it wasn’t a good series. There’s nothing we need to dwell on. It’s all right. We’ve got a flight to Tampa. ... We’re going to enjoy that day off and come back out on Friday with a lot more intensity. I can tell you that."
The Orioles were already without their most durable player Wednesday. Right fielder Nick Markakis, who injured his right wrist in the final moments of Tuesday's loss, sat in the dugout with his hands wrapped tightly. Jones, who had just signed a six-year, $85.5 million contract extension Saturday, had a melon-sized wrap around his left wrist after he was hit by a fastball from Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow and fell to his knees in pain. Jones stayed in the game, though Showalter said he would likely have an X-ray taken before the team left Toronto.
Right-hander Jason Hammel, one of the club's most consistent starters, was its best hope to end this losing streak, but he tossed his worst game in Orioles uniform. Hammel, who entered Wednesday having allowed just three homers in his nine previous starts, gave up four solo home runs to the Blue Jays, setting a new career high for homers allowed in a single game.
After opening the season with six straight starts of allowed two or fewer runs, Hammel has allowed 12 in his last 23, pitching to a 4.70 ERA.
"Today I made a few mistakes, and they all left the yard," Hammel said. "That’s the bottom line. They’re a very potent offense, and if you don’t make your pitches down they’re going to get them out."
Hammel also was shocked at the swings the Jays' batters were putting on his breaking pitches, alluding that they knew when he was throwing them. The Jays have been accused in the past of stealing signs at home.
“They were taking some pretty big hacks on my breaking stuff too, which leads me to believe it was something else,” Hammel said. “It is what it is. I need to keep the ball down.”
Each of Toronto’s homers off Hammel came off fastballs he left up in the zone; three came from leadoff batters. Edwin Encarnacion rocketed his 17th homer of the season to open the second. No. 9 hitter Rajai Davis did the same in the third, Brett Lawrie in the fourth.
When Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus pulled a 93 mph fastball into the right-field seats for Toronto's fourth long ball off Hammel, the Orioles right-hander merely crouched down in frustration.
Just five days ago, Hammel threw six shutout innings in a win over the Kansas City Royals. On Wednesday, he allowed season highs in hits (nine), earned runs (four) and, of course, home runs.
The Orioles' offense, meanwhile was anemic. After Ryan Flaherty's run-scoring single in the second inning, which gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead, the Orioles managed just two hits the rest of the way.
Morrow kept the Orioles' hitters off-balance with his breaking ball, striking out eight and allowing just four hits over 6 1/3 innings before he was forced from the game after being hit in the right shin by a come-backer off the bat of Wilson Betemit. Morrow couldn't put pressure on the leg as he limped off the field.
Jones said the team will put Toronto in the past and focus on the trip’s remaining six games in Tampa Bay and Boston.
“This division is tough,” Jones said. “Everyone’s above .500. Everybody’s playing good baseball. We didn’t start the road trip off good, but we still can salvage this road trip. We have six more games in this road trip, and we want two sweeps.”
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