BALTIMORE - Buck Showalter calls this time of year the beginning of the "Dog Days" of summer, the long stretch of the baseball season where the weather turns hot and humid and the end seems far away.
If that's the case, the Baltimore Orioles haven't gotten off to a very good start.
Showalter's club dropped Monday's series opener to Cleveland 5-2 in front of 18,544 at Camden Yards, pushing the Orioles' losing streak to four in a row.
Baltimore returned home from a 2-4 road trip, which included a sweep in Toronto over the weekend, and hosted an Indians team that had won six of its last nine games.
The Tribe added another victory behind Michael Brantley's four RBIs, and they overcame an early deficit by scoring three runs in the sixth inning to chase Baltimore starter Zach Britton after a solid start.
For the Orioles (42-35), it was another case of inconsistent pitching. But Showalter said he's confident the starters will find their form.
"They know what their job description is," the manager said. "They know what we have to have ... it's something we've done this year on occasion. We were a lot more consistent with it last year, and if we get that consistency again we'll be very competitive."
Brantley tied a career high with the four RBIs and hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning off Darren O'Day to give Cleveland (39-36) its three-run lead. He helped make a winner out of Ubaldo Jimenez, who wasn't sharp but improved to 6-4 and struck out six in 5 1-3 innings in his first career start against the Orioles.
Brantley ended Britton's night in the sixth with a two-run single to center, putting Cleveland on top 3-2. Britton was cruising until the sixth, when he gave up four hits and a walk to the first five batters. Jason Kipnis led off with a double and scored on Nick Swisher's single to center, and Carlos Santana followed with another double. Britton walked Mark Reynolds before Brantley's single, and Showalter replaced him with Tommy Hunter.
Britton made his first start of the season at home and fell to 1-2, allowing three runs and six hits in five-plus innings with three walks and five strikeouts.
"If I'm a little bit sharper, execute some pitches, I can get out of that inning with one or two runs, but at least we're in the game," Britton said. "It gives them momentum. Obviously, we had opportunities to score. But as a pitcher, I felt like the way I was throwing we didn't need a lot of runs today if I execute the pitches the way I should have."
Hunter, O'Day, Brian Matusz and Jim Johnson kept the game close, other then the Brantley homer, but it wasn't enough.
Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters each hit solo home runs to center field and staked Britton to a 2-0 lead. Markakis hit his in the first inning and Wieters added one in the fourth.
Wieters snapped a 0-for-13 skid with the home run, his 10th of the season. Markakis hit his eighth of the year with two outs in the first, but the Orioles stranded five baserunners through three innings and Jimenez stayed in the game.
Indians relievers Rich Hill, Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith and Vinnie Pestano did the rest, with Pestano earning his fourth save despite the Orioles putting two runners on in the ninth inning.
"Two runs is probably not going to get it done against an offense like that," Wieters said. "So we'd like to put up some more and be able to add to the lead when you get it."
The Orioles failed to do so Monday and were flustered by Cleveland's effective bullpen - the four relievers combined for 3 2-3 scoreless frames and only one hit allowed - in a fourth consecutive defeat. It's still June, with plenty of baseball to be played, but the "Dog Days" have officially begun in Baltimore.
"I don't look back too much," Wieters said, "but I think we had a six-game [losing streak] not too long ago and we were able to get something going after that so we'll be ready to go tomorrow."
NOTE: Pitcher Dylan Bundy is expected to meet with team orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens today because of a setback in his return from an arm injury. Bundy hasn't pitched since spring training.