The Orioles are immersed in a month-long struggle to score runs, but facing former teammate Scott Feldman on Tuesday night sent their frustration to a new level.
They had their opportunities against the Houston Astros right-hander, but the Orioles could scrape together just one run against Feldman in a 4-1 loss in front of an announced 21,541 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles (20-23) have scored two runs or fewer in three of their last four games and have plated just seven runs over their last 40 innings. Take away a three-hit night from Jimmy Paredes — the only Orioles starter hitting above .300 in the month of May — and the rest of the O's lineup was 2-for-27 on Tuesday night.
"I just think we've got to slow the game down," said Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, who is 3-for-35 over his last 11 games. "When you're not scoring a lot of runs, you're not swinging the bats well or like you know you can. The tendency is to press and try to overdo it and I think you've seen that in the last few games, just guys getting out of their approach, out of their rhythm and trying to do too much with pitches that aren't good pitches to hit."
The Orioles were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, while all four Astros runs were driven in with two outs.
Even worse, the Orioles wasted a fine effort from right-hander Chris Tillman, whose inconsistent season took a step forward with a gritty seven-inning effort, tying his season long. Tillman held the Astros (30-17) scoreless for his first six innings of work before allowing a pair of two-out run scoring hits in the seventh.
"[A] step in the right direction for a guy we know is capable of pitching at a good level," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Tillman, who allowed two runs. "So I was impressed with Chris tonight. We obviously haven't been giving our pitchers much margin for error, but he gave us a real good chance to win tonight. Probably even a little bit better than that."
It was Feldman's tantalizing breaking ball that had the Orioles hitters swinging out of the strike zone. They put a runner on base in each of Feldman's first six innings of work, but scored just one run off him. They allowed Feldman, who pitched for the Orioles in 2013, off the hook early, hitting into double plays in each of the first three innings.
"He's a guy that's going to throw pretty much everything at you," Davis said. "Everything moves, everything moves late. He's very deliberate in his movements, very slow to the plate. The ball kind of gets on you. … I don't know how many curveballs we swung at that were outside the zone, but it was a lot, myself included. When a guy's got a pitch like that that's so slow and loopy, and you see it early, and it looks good, you've got to be patient. I thought we did a good job of kind of grinding out a run right there and giving ourselves a chance. We just couldn't put them away."
Tillman was one out away from seven shutout innings before allowing an RBI single on a high changeup to .172 hitter Chris Carter. He then yielded an RBI double into the right-center field gap to Jason Castro on a 2-2 count.
"I've been there before, it's a situation where you got to make some pitches and try to do too much instead of doing what you did all game," Tillman said. "I thought I made some pitches earlier in the inning to not be in that situation. But they were tough. Feldman was too."
Astros third baseman Luis Valbuena — a .111 hitter against left-handed pitching — hit a two-out, two-run single off left-hander Brian Matusz in the eighth. That hit came immediately after Matusz walked left-handed hitting Colby Rasmus on a full count to load the bases.
"Brian just hasn't been as consistent as he's capable of, that's for sure," Showalter said. "We've seen him get some big out for us. We liked our chances there. … We hung a breaking ball to Valbuena. … Once again, we can sit here and talk about all that, and rightfully so but just until we get some things going offensively, it really makes for a tough atmosphere to pitch in."
Tillman allowed the leadoff batter on base in each of the first four innings, including three leadoff walks in that span, but emerged from his early control issues unscathed. He was helped by some sparkling defense behind him.
Valbuena hit a two-out double down the left-field line in the fourth, but J.J. Hardy's relay throw home nailed Preston Tucker at home plate to keep the game scoreless. In the sixth inning, second baseman Steve Pearce — who had never played the position before this month — made a diving play up the middle to rob Astros second baseman Jose Altuve of a base hit.
"I think I was able to execute some pitches and get out of situations," Tillman said. "I wasn't very good at getting the first hitter of the inning, but it put some stress on you to get pitches and to get a double play or some quick outs. I'd like to be better with that first hitter. … I think the defense was key to keeping us in that ball game."
Paredes, once a highly touted Astros prospect who has found new life with the Orioles, was their only offensive bright spot. After Paredes opened the fourth with a single, Adam Jones drew a walk to put two on with no outs, but Davis and Pearce struck out and Delmon Young lined out to left.
Paredes scored the Orioles' only run in the sixth. After doubling off the right-field fence, he scored two batters later on Davis' line drive sacrifice fly to right.