Add pitching to the Orioles' problems after 7-2 loss to Indians
By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Jun 28, 2012 | 11:34 PM
Orioles manager Buck Showalter calls it “having too much want-to,” those critical moments when his players' effort doesn't match up with their execution.
He's had to use the phrase far too often over the past 12 games. The offense's struggles continue to mount with every game, and over the past three games, the team's starting pitching — one of the lifelines of the Orioles' early-season success — had become unglued.
That combustible combination has led two three straight ugly losses, the latest being Thursday's 7-2 defeat to the Cleveland Indians in front of an announced 17,676 at Camden Yards.
“I'm never going to chastise anybody for wanting to do something that the team's in need of,” Showalter said. “We've had good stretches offensively; we've had some real good stretches pitching. We've just got to get back to putting it together again.”
Thursday's loss was the Orioles' third straight and their seventh in their last nine. This is the first time the Orioles (41-34) are fewer than eight games over .500 since May 2.
And over the past two nights, the Orioles' two most dependable pitchers — Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen — had their worst starts of the season. Adding in Brian Matusz's loss Tuesday, the Orioles' starting pitchers have a 11.66 ERA in the past three games. They've allowed 33 baserunners (27 hits, six walks), with 19 of them scoring, over 14 2/3 innings. The entire Orioles pitching staff owns an 8.33 ERA in the last three games.
The Orioles' bats didn't do much to help the cause. They were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and are now hitting .058 (3-for-52) in that situation over the last 10 games.
“It does put some pressure on the pitching staff, but it also puts some pressure on the hitters — the flip-flop of that when the pitching staff struggles,” Showalter said. “Every club this year has gone through periods similar, but it doesn't make it any more palatable for us.”
The Orioles scored 27 runs in their three-game sweep of the Pirates here on June 12-14, but they've managed just 23 runs in the 12 games since. They've scored three or fewer runs in 11 of the last 12 games.
“It's more mental,” said shortstop J.J. Hardy, who accounted for the Orioles' only runs with a two-run homer in the fifth. “And the more we think about it, the more it's brought up that we're struggling, it works more as a negative than anything. We have to relax and take it as any other at-bat. The pressure's more on the [opposing] pitcher in that situation, anyway.”
Chen (7-4) allowed two home runs, the big blow being Johnny Damon's three-run shot in the second inning.
It was Damon's 22nd career homer at Camden Yards, most of any visiting ballpark he's played at. In his 17-year career, Damon — an Orioles offseason free-agent consideration who signed with the Indians in mid-April — has hit 33 homers and has 128 RBI against the Orioles, both the most against any team he's faced.
“I've been lucky a few times here,” Damon said. “That's why going into the offseason, after Tampa Bay signed [former Oriole] Luke Scott, I thought these guys would come and get me. Obviously, they decided against it and that's OK with me.”
Chen also allowed a two-out solo homer to Shin-Soo Choo in the fifth inning, marking just the second time Chen has allowed more than one home run in a game. He also allowed two in a 9-3 loss to the Washington Nationals on May 20, the other game in which he allowed six runs.
“I didn't do my job,” Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. “Everything [was] out of control and everything just went south. That's it.”
He was also charged with two more runs when reliever Luis Ayala yielded a three-run homer to Asdrubal Cabrera, the first batter he faced in the seventh with two on and two outs.
Hardy had two hits Thursday, a sign he might be breaking out of a 4-for-41 slump, and Wilson Betemit had three hits and is batting .514 in his past 12 games.
But leadoff hitter Brian Roberts hasn't scored a run in his last 11 games, and designated hitter Chris Davis has just one hit in his last 35 at-bats.
And first baseman Mark Reynolds had three strikeouts Thursday, stranding four runners on base. The Orioles had runners at the corners with two outs in the fourth, but Reynolds struck out swinging. He also came up in the sixth with a runner on second and grounded out to end the inning.
“We went through it earlier in the year,” Reynolds said. “We're not picking up key hits. I had a bunch of chances tonight and just couldn't get it done. You get in these funks and just like when things are going good, everybody seems to pick up on the energy of it and when things are going bad it snowballs the other way. Everyone in here is frustrated, but we'll snap out of it.