The Tampa Bay Rays arrived at Camden Yards with the reputation of being a team that swings early, but the past two nights they've forced the Orioles to beat them by throwing strikes.
A night after the Orioles won the series opener despite getting just five innings from starter Jake Arrieta, right-hander Chris Tillman wasn't as lucky. Tillman battled control problems Wednesday in the Orioles' 6-2 loss to Tampa Bay in front of an announced 13,591.
Tillman constantly worked from behind in the count — throwing 17 first-pitch balls to the 22 batters his faced — and lasted just five innings after throwing 93 pitches.
In 14 games this season, Orioles starting pitchers have failed to go six innings in half of them. Tillman and Arrieta account for six of those starts, but the Orioles are 4-2 in games they've started.
"It's not something you want to have every night or you will be in jeopardy," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "When you're constantly behind in the count, it's tough. That's something all pitching coaches and all teams stress, trying to get strike one, and we really haven't done that much the last couple of nights."
The Orioles (7-7) are two games into a 20-games-in-20-days stretch, and having starters go deep to keep the bullpen fresh will be a key factor.
"I think a big thing is we haven't established well enough that we are going to get that first-pitch strike, and a quality strike," catcher Matt Wieters said. "You got to get pitches close to the strike zone."
Tillman (0-1) hasn't lasted more than 5 1/3 innings in any of his starts this season, all three outings hurt by high pitch counts. Wednesday, he allowed four runs on six hits with two walks and six strikeouts.
"When you're working from behind the whole game, they're putting together some at-bats rather than getting strike one and working ahead in the count," Tillman said. "I think it's pretty evident what our offense is capable of once you get them back in the dugout as soon as possible. I was struggling to get back to the dugout."
The Rays (5-9) entered Wednesday's game off to their worst offensive start in team history and had the ninth-worst team batting average through a season's first 13 games in the past 25 years. But through the first two games of this series, they've been patient at the plate. They saw 187 pitches on Tuesday, including 11 full counts, after seeing 161 pitches on Wednesday, an average of nearly 18 an inning.
"The biggest thing is getting ahead, because when you get ahead you can keep attacking the zone and get some quick outs," Wieters said. "They've done well to be able to battle through innings because they've gotten behind guys. I think if we get ahead we can have some easier innings.
"That's big. You want to win; you want to win with your starting pitching. We have the starting pitching in place. We've just got to get deeper in games, and that way the bullpen can get a night off."
Just six hitters into his outing, Tillman had allowed a pair of solo homers. Rays second baseman Kelly Johnson took a 1-0 fastball over the right-center field fence two batters into the game. In the second inning, designated hitter Shelley Duncan hit a 2-1 slider out to left-center to give the Rays a 2-0 lead.
The Orioles managed just two runs off Rays left-hander Matt Moore — the first two he's allowed this season. Moore (3-0) had entered the game with pitch-count issues of his own, averaging a team high 18.2 pitches an inning. But he lasted 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits and three walks with seven strikeouts.
"We've seen him," Showalter said. "You can see why they've got such a good chance to be in the thick of things, the starting pitching they run out there and the bullpen."
The Orioles tied the game in the third when Adam Jones hit a two-run homer to left-center field off Moore, who had opened the season with 14 scoreless innings. With Manny Machado on second and two outs, Jones took a first-pitch fastball toward the Orioles bullpen in left-center. The ball ricocheted off a horizontal metal bar just behind the fence and bounced back into play, and second base umpire Brian Knight initially called it a double. But the umpires changed the call to a home run after a video review.
It was just the third call that's been overturned at Camden Yards since video review was instituted in August of 2008. There have been 18 calls reviewed involving the Orioles and 12 of them at Camden Yards.
Jones made a costly misplay in the fourth that led to Tampa Bay taking a 4-2 lead. With runners on second and third and one out, James Loney lined a ball that Jones charged and tried to catch. The ball dropped well in front of Jones and skipped past him, allowing both base runners to score.
"The ball got by me," Jones said. "I went after it aggressive. I can't be mad at myself. I went after it aggressive. ... It wasn't hit as hard as I thought, and the ball didn't get to me."
The Rays added another run in the sixth off left-handed reliever T.J. McFarland on Yunel Escobar's two-out single with runners on second and third. That was the first run that McFarland, the Orioles' Rule 5 pick in December, allowed this season.
Loney drove in another run off McFarland in the eighth with a one-out single to left that scored Matt Joyce, who hit a leadoff single and stole second.
The Rays bullpen held the Orioles hitless in 2 1/3 innings to preserve the win.