Orioles fail to find clutch hits, lose 7-4 to let Nats even series

Following a 7-4 loss to the Washington Nationals on Saturday night, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he is quite aware of his club's futile performance recently with runners in scoring position.

And he's quick to point out that it hasn't been a problem all year — heading into Saturday night, the Orioles had a .294 average in those situations, third-best in the majors and nearly 40 points higher than the American League average.


"We've been talking about it. We've done a good job over the course of a long season. We're getting a lot of people out there [on the basepaths]," Showalter said. "Sometimes, I think we're trying to do too much and that's a lot easier to say. ... At this level, pitchers make a living at letting you get yourself out and I think that's happening."

No matter the explanations or the spin, the hard numbers right now couldn't be much bleaker.


The Orioles (44-43) were 0-for-8 Saturday with runners in scoring position, are 0-for-15 in the Nationals series, 1-for-35 in their past five games and 5-for-69 in their past 10.

"We haven't been efficient with men in scoring position, just got to get back being efficient, bearing down with runners in scoring position," center fielder Adam Jones said. "That's all it is. It's not like the opposing pitcher is going to groove a fastball right down the middle and let you do it. So, we got to concentrate more and get it done."

In their past five games, four of them losses, the Orioles have left a mind-boggling 32 runners on base. They'll have to do better than that to be victorious Sunday and guarantee a winning record in the season's first half.

The Nationals (47-39) ended a three-game losing streak with a veritable offensive explosion. They had scored more than three runs just once in their previous eight games.


On Saturday, playing before an announced 44,495 — the fifth sellout at Camden Yards this season — a good starting pitching matchup fizzled pretty quickly.

Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez struggled through his first two innings, allowing five hits, two walks and two runs while throwing 41 pitches.

Thanks to a couple of good defensive plays, though, Gonzalez settled down and retired 10 in a row at one point before he fell apart in the sixth.

Washington slugger Bryce Harper, who hadn't yet hit a ball out of the infield in the series, led off the inning by walloping a 90-mph fastball over the grounds' crew shed in right for his 26th homer of the year. He's now trailing Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who has been out since June 27 with a broken bone in his left wrist, by one homer for the major league lead.

Gonzalez then allowed two consecutive singles before Danny Espinosa gave the Nationals a 6-4 lead with a three-run homer to the flag court in right. It was Espinosa's 10th of the year.

"You go in and you think about it and you're like, 'What's going on?'" Gonzalez said. "I was throwing really good for a couple innings and they're good hitters. You tip your hat to them. When you don't make good pitches, bad things might happen."

That forced Gonzalez out of the game — the fourth time in his past five starts he hasn't pitched more than five innings (he left one in the fifth because of injury). What seemed like an impressive in-game turnaround ended up as a clunker for Gonzalez (7-6). He'll head into the All-Star break with a 4.24 ERA in 16 starts.

"Mechanically, I'm just overthinking things right now," he said. "I think that's what's getting away from me. I will go on the break and refresh. Come [back] the second half and do what I can do."

The Orioles again did some damage against Washington right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, who was 7-5 with a 3.04 ERA this season but 1-3 with a 4.13 ERA in five career starts versus the Orioles.

The Orioles took an early lead in the first on an RBI groundout by Jimmy Paredes and then went up 3-2 in the second on a two-run homer by Caleb Joseph that landed in the Orioles bullpen. The sixth longball of Joseph's season was his first in nearly a month. He last went deep on June 12 at Camden Yards.

Steve Pearce added the Orioles' fourth run with a solo homer to left to lead off the fourth. It was Pearce's seventh of the season — and his first since May 27.

It was a fortunate twist for the Orioles considering Pearce wasn't supposed to start Saturday. Forty-five minutes before first pitch, right fielder Chris Davis was scratched from the starting lineup with the stomach flu. It was only the third time in 2015 that Davis hasn't started for the Orioles.

"He was pretty ill. He stayed around to take the IV and be monitored by our medical people," Showalter said. "They didn't feel like he was infectious. Something intestinally, we hope. See what tomorrow brings. He got a little better as the game went on."

The Orioles touched up Zimmermann (8-5) for four runs in five innings, the first time he hasn't posted a quality start since June 12, ending a streak of four such outings.

Washington's bullpen put up zeros the rest of the way; closer Drew Storen notched his 26th save with a scoreless ninth despite allowing two base runners on a single and a walk. The Nationals also received a little help from an Orioles offense that can't seem to take advantage of run-scoring opportunities.

It might not get much better in Sunday's rubber match, with Max Scherzer, one of baseball's best hurlers, taking the mound against Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen.

"We're just going through it right now, a tough period. We've got to try to battle through it, and we'll do it," Pearce said. "We've gone through something similar earlier in the year, and we got out of it. It's kind of frustrating right now, but we'll get through it."


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