ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Jake Arrieta knows he has the tools to live up to the expectations the Orioles organization has placed upon him. He owns an exemplary arsenal of pitches. He is one of the team’s hardest workers, a pitcher with unique attention to detail. He’s said several times he now feels the healthiest he’s been as a pro.
That’s what makes his recent slide so frustrating for the 26-year-old right-hander. Two months ago, the Orioles tabbed him as their Opening Day starter. Now Arrieta — winless for more than a month — is looking everywhere for answers.
In Sunday’s series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, Arrieta retired the first nine hitters he faced. But everything unraveled quickly, and despite allowing just two hits, Arrieta was out of the game after 4 2/3 innings.
The Orioles’ 8-4 loss sealed the club’s fourth straight series loss and sent Baltimore back into second place in the American League East standings by one game. It also sent them to Boston for the final leg of their three-city, nine-game road trip against the AL East with a dubious 1-5 record. The Orioles (30-24) have also lost nine of their past 12 games.
“It’s tough, but every team goes through it,” said Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds. “We’re just having ours right now. You play 162 of these things and this is just six, seven games out of 162. It’s not really that big of a deal when you think about it. We’re going to get out of here, go to Boston for a day off tomorrow, go and regroup and hopefully play some good baseball up there.”
Since throwing eight shutout innings at Yankee Stadium on May 2, Arrieta is 0-5 with a 7.96 ERA in his past six starts. He hasn’t reached the six-inning mark in four of his past five starts.
Arrieta issued a season-high four walks, including three in a two-run fifth that gave the Rays a 4-2 lead and chased the O’s starter from the game. Arrieta fought from behind in the count all afternoon, throwing only five of 20 first-pitch strikes. Catcher Matt Wieters said he lost touch on his off-speed pitches.
Arrieta found his problems more difficult to pinpoint.
“I think it's just that frustration sets in from time to time,” Arrieta said. “As a consistent big league starter, it's a matter of putting it all together, and every fifth day, that's what I have to do. I'm still searching for it, still searching for that consistency every time I go out. Right now, it's not there, and I've got to put that behind me and continue to move forward, because if I don't, it's going to get to me and it could continue to snowball.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who sent down struggling starter Tommy Hunter to find his fastball command, said Arrieta is still slated to make his next start Friday in an Orioles uniform.
“Jake gets it,” Showalter said. “He knows what's good enough and what's not. And he has great work habits. It's not from a lack of effort and want-to. He had some really good work on some of the things that have been challenging him before this start and it worked out real good before this start. And sometimes that's the margin of error on this level.”
The Orioles committed three errors, all of them costly, including Adam Jones’ errant throw to third that sailed over third baseman Steve Tolleson, putting the Rays up 2-1. Wieters’ throwing error in the sixth also led to a run, as did a Tolleson fielding error the same inning.
The Orioles left six runners on in the first four innings against Rays starter Matt Moore, and 11 for the afternoon. They were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
Wieters had three hits, including his ninth homer of the season — his first since May 13 — and drove in two runs. Reynolds, who also had three hits, hit a solo homer in the eighth, his first since May 5.
Closer Jim Johnson was named the MLB Delivery Man of the Month, awarded to the top reliever in the game, for May. Johnson converted all nine save opportunities with a 1.42 ERA in 12 2/3 innings, allowing just two earned runs with eight strikeouts and no walks. … Newcomer Scott Pearce made his first start Sunday on his first full day in an Orioles uniform, starting in right field and batting eighth. He was 1-for-4 with a single. … Matt Wieters’ throwing error in the sixth inning was his sixth of the year, one more than his season total in last year’s Gold Glove season.