MINNEAPOLIS — The scouting report Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman received on the Minnesota Twins said they would be hunting fastballs early and often. And Gausman was determined to make the Twins beat him by hitting his mid-90s fastball.
Gausman battled with his fastball command from the first inning on, turning in the shortest big league start of his career as the Orioles lost 8-3 to the Twins on Tuesday night in front of an announced 25,091 at Target Field
"I felt every fastball I threw they were swinging at today," Gausman said. "Their report was that they were going to swing at my fastballs and I had some trouble locating it tonight, and I think I threw maybe one too many. I wish I would have mixed in a little more off-speed, but that's what this game is all about. It's about learning."
Gausman lasted just 3 2/3 innings, his shortest start in 28 big league starts. He was charged with a career-high eight runs – seven of them earned - on seven hits. He struck out four and walked one.
"Obviously, it's something I'm not proud of, but it's going to happen," Gausman said. "Growing pains. But it's definitely unacceptable to put the bullpen in that situation. Just anytime you get guys on base inning after inning and allow the leadoff batter get on, you put yourself in a hole."
After the game, Gausman (1-1) was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, likely so the Orioles can add an extra arm to replenish their bullpen. The move allows Gausman to keep pitching during the All-Star break – he could start Sunday for the Tides – while beginning his 10-day minor league clock so the Orioles can recall him on July 18.
Gausman didn't receive much help from an Orioles offense that continues to struggle scoring runs. The Orioles were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position Tuesday and are 5-for-50 in those situations over the last seven games.
With one game remaining in their six-game road trip to Chicago and Minnesota, the Orioles (43-41) have lost four of five games, averaging just 3.2 runs a game on the trip. The Orioles have scored three runs or fewer in five of their last six games, hitting just .197 during that stretch.
"It's just going to take a couple knocks here and there and we'll get through this," said shortstop J.J. Hardy, whose two-run homer in the sixth off Twins start Kyle Gibson (7-6) was one of few bright spots. "It happens. It's a rough stretch, but we'll keep grinding and we'll get through it."
Losers of seven of their last nine, the Orioles couldn't capitalize on early opportunities against Gibson. They stranded three runners in scoring position in the first two innings and had a runner on third base with one out in both frames, but couldn't push a run across.
Gibson held the Orioles to two runs on six hits over six innings, striking out seven and walking one.
"People look at the score of the game and they think it wasn't just a pitching thing, but I thought one of the keys was the first inning," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We let them wiggle out [of] there without scratching one off of him. And sometimes your aggressiveness gets in the way of your selectiveness. [Gibson] pitched well, but we surely would like to push a run across there and try to create a little margin of error and some positive feelings with a young pitcher out there."
Even though the Orioles have scuffled offensively, they have received quality starts in five of six games heading into Tuesday night. That run included a 6 1/3-inning scoreless outing by Gausman last Thursday that solidified his spot in the rotation and prompted the club to demote veteran right-hander Bud Norris to the bullpen.
But Gausman struggled from the beginning Tuesday, falling behind 3-0 to the Twins (45-39) just four batters into the bottom of the first inning.
After Joe Mauer hit a one-out single and moved to second on a wild pitch, he scored on Trevor Plouffe's double off the center-field wall. Gausman then threw a 97-mph fastball to Miguel Sano that the Twins rookie crushed over the left-field fence for his first major league homer.
Gausman was trying to throw the 1-1 pitch to Sano down and away, but it ended up splitting the heart of the plate.
"Sometimes people think command just shows up in walk totals," Showalter said. "He was wild in the strike zone. Last time out, he was down when he needed to be and he was up when he needed to be and he was in between those two tonight."
Gausman should have stranded Mauer on third base in the third inning, striking out Eddie Rosario for the third out of the inning. But Gausman's split changeup skipped past catcher Matt Wieters and to the backstop, allowing Mauer to score.
He wouldn't survive the fourth, leaving with the bases loaded and one out after allowing one run to score on Brian Dozier's sacrifice fly. Brad Brach entered the game and immediately walked in a run, then allowed a two-run single to Rosario.
Adam Jones' RBI double in the eighth with Manny Machado on second base was the Orioles' only hit with runners in scoring position. Jones hit a blast that was nearly a home run, hitting off the top of the center-field fence before bouncing back into the field of play. The Orioles challenged the call, but it was upheld.
The team's only other runs came on Hardy's two-run homer in the fifth.
The Orioles placed runners at second and third in the first inning after Machado's leadoff single and Jones' one-out double, but Gibson struck out Chris Davis and Wieters to escape the threat.
Chris Parmelee hit a leadoff double in the second and moved to third on a Travis Snider groundout, but Hardy lined out to third and Ryan Flaherty grounded out to Gibson to end the inning.