BALTIMORE - Jake Arrieta's future as a member of the Baltimore Orioles' starting rotation seems stuck on an outing-to-outing basis.
Buck Showalter is keeping it simple with his 27-year-old right-hander. As long as Arrieta keeps the Orioles in the game, the manager has a place for him.
Arrieta did the one thing Showalter wanted Tuesday against Tampa Bay, and although it wasn't pretty it ended a long drought. Arrieta earned his first win since June 13, 2012, and the Orioles edged the Rays 5-4 in front of 14,670 at Camden Yards.
Baltimore needed six pitchers to hold off Tampa Bay and notch a win to open the nine-game homestand, and the Orioles won their fourth out of five against the Rays. Perhaps more importantly for them, Arrieta led the way.
He threw 112 pitches in five innings and walked five, but struck out seven and allowed one run. After two starts (both no-decisions) and a 7.20 ERA, Arrieta's performance was a welcome one for Showalter and himself.
"I was off a tick with certain things, didn't establish my breaking ball and slider early enough in the game," Arrieta said. "So I think I tried to force it a little bit here and there. But when I had guys on base with less than two outs I was able to get some big strikeouts, so that's the most important thing."
The Orioles (7-6) led 5-1 after six innings but the Rays, who have lost seven of eight, got to reliever Pedro Strop with a pair of home runs in the eighth. Kelly Johnson opened the inning with a solo shot and Evan Longoria added a two-run blast before Showalter went to Brian Matusz and Darren O'Day to preserve a one-run lead.
Jim Johnson pitched a perfect ninth inning for his sixth save, and Arrieta had his first victory of the year.
"The win is the biggest part of the night," Arrieta said. "I would have liked to be out there a little bit longer but the pitch count got up. They stuck with me in the sixth, let me go back out, and I just wasn't able to command the ball then. I just wasn't able to get out of that inning."
Manny Machado's RBI double in the first inning tied the game at 1-1, Matt Wieters' solo homer in the second gave the Orioles the lead, and Nick Markakis' RBI single in the third gave Arrieta an insurance run.
Tampa Bay's Desmond Jennings led off the game with a home run, which came on the first pitch. The homer gave the Rays a 1-0 lead and it also ended a streak - the Orioles had outscored their opponents 9-0 in the first inning before Jennings went deep.
The Rays (4-9) got a leadoff double from Matt Joyce in the fourth, but Arrieta retired the next three batters in order to keep it 3-1. He had a stretch of five strikeouts in six batters, and struck out the side in the fifth. But a leadoff walk to Longoria in the sixth ended his night.
"He goes through periods where it's not as much as a challenge for him as it is right now," Showalter said. "He's got to work through it. He had a lot of counts, some close pitches that didn't go his way. But when you are not commanding the strike zone, you're not going to get the benefit of the doubt there."
Three-fifths of Baltimore's rotation seems firm in Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez, with Chris Tillman and Arrieta each having their share of struggles right now.
Perhaps Arrieta proved himself with Tuesday's outing.
"He was the winning pitcher tonight in a major league game against an American League East team," Showalter said. "I'm proud of him for battling through. He had some chances to give in, he didn't."
NOTE: Orioles first baseman Chris Davis broke his bat over his knee after striking out to end the third inning. Davis' at-bat started with him swinging through Roberto Hernandez's first pitch and losing his grip on the bat, which spun in the air and landed beyond first base. Davis got a new piece of lumber, but it didn't last long.