Gausman gets final tuneup before Orioles bullpen implodes in 15-6 loss

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Several Orioles stars made their first and only road trip of the Grapefruit League season Wednesday for a 15-6 slog of a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, and watched Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman make what he believes was a strong end to a sterling spring before the bullpen imploded.

Gausman allowed two runs — one earned — on two hits, but walked four and struck out five as he battled his control problems from the stretch. But he left feeling ready for what he hopes is a season.

“Physically, that’s probably the best I felt this spring — the most like the season, from a strength aspect,” Gausman said. “I felt really good. I felt like the ball was coming out of my hand really well. I threw some really good sliders today, so that’s something that’s going to be huge going forward. I think I might have gotten every strikeout, almost, on it. Obviously, a lot of pitches in 32/3 [innings], so something I want to limit.”

Gausman issued two of his four walks with two outs in the first inning, but he got out of the inning clean. He worked around a walk and a tough-luck error by J.J. Hardy at shortstop for a scoreless second. The damage came in the third inning.

A one-out fly ball to the warning track in the direction of center fielder Chris Dickerson fell in for a two-base error. After a single, a walk and another single, the Rays scored two runs before Gausman ended the inning with a strikeout/caught stealing that featured a rundown.

“He could have gone [longer],” manager Buck Showalter said. “He had just thrown so many pitches in those innings, it wasn’t worth pushing it. He got his work in. Feels good. Those two-out walks kind of built up his pitch count a little bit. But he’s had a good spring for the most part. He’s ready to go.”

Minor league Rule 5 picks struggle: Closer Zach Britton relieved Gausman with two outs in the fourth, and the two pitchers who came after him caused the game to become a rout.

Minor league Rule 5 picks Jefri Hernandez and Brian Moran were on the mound for a sixth inning in which 15 Rays came to plate and 12 runs scored on 11 hits, including three home runs.

All seven of Hernandez’s runs were earned, but only two of Moran’s were, thanks to a throwing error by Hardy.

Britton, Brach battle: Britton’s day likely didn’t go as smoothly as he planned, as the first batter he faced singled on a hard ground ball up the middle that just eluded the pitcher. A quick-twitch play at third base by Ryan Flaherty got him out of the fourth, and he walked two and allowed a single in a scoreless fifth.

Brad Brach pitched the seventh inning, allowing two hits but coming out without allowing a run, and left-hander Donnie Hart allowed a run on two hits in the eighth.

“Obviously, just a little bit of command issues, but he’s spoiled us with perfection,” Showalter said of Britton. “Everybody wants to know. He’s cutting some balls off, just a little bit off line a little. He’ll be fine. He’s got a couple more. He’s going to stay down here when we go to Norfolk, and he’s got an outing there. He’ll have a little work day in between. He was talking to [pitching coach Roger McDowell] about it. I think they know what some of the issues were — it’s tough to correct during a game.”

One-trip wonders: Projected starters Mark Trumbo, Seth Smith and Hardy all made their first road trip of the spring, while first baseman Chris Davis made his second.

Smith and Hardy each singled in four at-bats, while Davis was 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts and a walk. Trumbo was partially responsible for three of the Orioles’ runs when he hit a bases-loaded fly ball to medium-range center field with two outs in the seventh inning that Rays center fielder Braxton Lee dropped.

Frequent travelers Hyun Soo Kim and Dickerson homered in the fourth inning.