As a rookie in the big leagues, Orioles left-hander Zach Britton has encountered plenty of celebratory firsts this season.
On Friday night, in an uninspiring 8-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, Britton experienced several rather unpleasant ones, including his first grand slam allowed, first string of consecutive poor outings and first time he hasn't pitched into the sixth inning as a big leaguer.
"He's a guy who spent half a season in Triple-A, and he's going to have some [tough] nights," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Hopefully, he learns from it and doesn't repeat them as often."
Before an announced 18,587, the Orioles' 23-year-old phenom struggled with his control against the free-swinging Blue Jays, throwing just 47 of his season-low 81 pitches for strikes. He tied his season-high with three walks and also uncorked two wild pitches after throwing one all season.
"I don't think I did a good job out there, falling behind too many hitters," said Britton (5-4), who has dropped three straight decisions and hasn't won since May 1. "Watch on video, and the hits I gave up were all balls out over the plate [and] up. That's what a good-hitting team does -- they hit those pitches."
Britton's rocky night turned from unlucky to unsightly with one toss -- an 89 mph, two-out, two-strike sinker to Toronto catcher J.P. Arencibia, who reached down and golfed it an impressive 383 feet to left.
"It was down where I wanted. If he doesn't swing, I think it hits the ground," Britton said. "If you watch that at-bat, he wasn't able to hit those pitches down and away when I threw it there. That last pitch kind of cut on me a little bit and ran right on his bat. He did a good job. He hit that ball very hard for where it was. But I think if I make a better pitch, we get out of that inning."
It was Arencibia's ninth homer of the season and the first grand slam of the 25-year-old's career, turning a 3-0 contest into a 7-0 laugher.
The Orioles (25-30) hadn't played the Jays (29-28) in 2011, but they seemingly picked up where they left off last year, when they dropped 15 of 18 against Toronto. The Orioles have lost six of their past seven games this season since evening their record at 24-24 on May 26.
All told, Britton gave up six hits, three walks and a career-high seven runs (five earned), pushing his ERA to a season-high 3.33. He struck out three and yielded a homer for the third consecutive outing after allowing four in his first nine starts.
The young lefty hadn't pitched fewer than 51/3 innings since joining the Orioles and had made it through at least six innings in nine of his first 11 starts. But after Arencibia's grand slam, Britton recorded an inning-ending groundout and then was pulled for reliever Jeremy Accardo, who allowed one run in two innings.
"I think he still has the confidence, and that's good for a young pitcher," outfielder Felix Pie said about Britton. "And he'll be a good pitcher, he will have a good career. Struggling is part of the game. I am not surprised."
The Blue Jays jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second Friday on a RBI single and a Britton wild pitch. The runs were set up by third baseman Mark Reynolds' inability to get his glove down on a grounder to his left. It was Reynolds' team-leading 11th error.
Juan Rivera added a sacrifice fly in the third that gave the Blue Jays a 3-0 lead, which looked like it would be enough against Toronto's Carlos Villanueva, a converted reliever making just his third start since 2009.
Villanueva was anything but crisp, but he changed speeds enough to befuddle the Orioles' struggling offense for the first four innings. He walked one and hit two batters but didn't give up a hit until J.J. Hardy's leadoff single in the fifth.
"Everything is going to be magnified when you're losing," said center fielder Adam Jones, who had his third straight multi-hit game. "So magnify it."
Hardy came around to score on a single by Robert Andino and Jones also hit a run-scoring single in the fifth, his team-leading 31st RBI.
Villanueva (3-0) left with one out in the sixth, which was good for his longest outing of the season. The Orioles managed 10 hits, but all were singles until the eighth when Hardy smacked a two-run homer against reliever Jason Frasor. It was Hardy's fourth homer of the season and second in two games. The Orioles had runners on base in eight of nine innings but scored in just two of them. Conversely, the Blue Jays scored six of their eight runs with two outs.
"We had as many hits as they did. It certainly didn't feel like it," Showalter said. "It took a while for us to get adjusted to what we knew [Villanueva] was going to be doing. It was kind of frustrating early because he was doing exactly what we expected. We finally made the adjustment and got him out of there, but by then there was too much of a margin."
Like Britton's last start, in which he allowed six runs in 52/3 innings, including a key, three-run homer to Oakland's Josh Willingham, Showalter said the night unraveled on one pitch.
"If you look at it, his last two outings have been defined by two pitches," Showalter said. "Obviously, there are a lot of pitches that lead up to the people that are out there, but those are some of the growing pains young pitchers go through."
The Orioles had grown accustomed to Britton keeping them in games. And even though they have watched him give up 11 earned runs in his past two outings, their belief in their young hurler isn't shaken.
"He still has the good stuff. He's still very good. It's just the big leagues. He knows he's going to have to go out there and make the adjustment to the hitters like the hitters do to him," Jones said. "He's got too good of stuff and too good a head on his shoulders. A couple bad starts? He's OK. I'm sure he's amped to come out here for his next start and throw the ball as well as he's been throwing it."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun