Brian Matusz had already allowed 11 hits through five innings of work Tuesday night, but Orioles manager Buck Showalter wanted to see if he could scrape one more inning out of his left-handed starter.
Showalter believed Matusz earned the right to go out for a sixth inning. He had allowed just three runs and thrown just 74 pitches. The manager wanted to put faith in his young pitcher.
And beiginning a stretch of 13 games in 13 days leading up to the All-Star break, one inning would make a huge difference in preserving the Orioles' bullpen.
Two batters later, Showalter made the slow walk to the mound to pull Matusz, who let a full-count changeup to the Los Angeles Angels' Peter Bourjos catch too much of the plate. Bourjos took Matusz's final pitch of the night over the left-field fence for a two-run homer, which served as the dagger in the Orioles' 7-3 loss before an announced 24,296 at Camden Yards.
"Bottom line is guys are judged on runs given up," Showalter said. "I thought he deserved the opportunity, see if he could get another inning there, especially with some of the moving parts we have going on with the bullpen and the number of days without any off days."
Since a marvelous 7 1/3-inning, two-hit, one-run effort against the Tampa Bay Rays on June 2, Matusz hasn't been able to get out of the sixth inning in any of his four starts. His night Tuesday was over two batters into the sixth inning, after he allowed five runs on a career-high 13 hits.
"He was up [in the zone] just about the whole outing," Showalter said. "[He] was fortunate to still be the game with those hits. They hit a lot of balls hard that found holes. We hit a lot less hard, but didn't find holes. We made a lot of mistakes, and Brian wasn't very crisp tonight."
Over his last four starts — all losses — Matusz has pitched to an 8.31 ERA, allowing 33 hits and 16 earned runs over 17 1/3 innings.
"It's been just a couple pitches here and there each game," Matusz said. "It's just being able to eliminate the mistakes and get back on track. My stuff wasn't really sharp today. Breaking pitches weren't there. I was relying on locating the fastball, and I left a few over the plate, and that's what really hurt."
The Angels rapped out 17 hits and hit four homers off Orioles pitching, including a pair of two-run homers off Matusz, who is 1-4 with a 6.66 ERA in five career starts against the Angels.
With the loss, the Orioles (41-32) remained in second played in the AL East but fell four games behind the division-leading New York Yankees.
Trailing 1-0, Angels slugger Albert Pujols — playing his first game at Camden Yards — launched a 90-mph Matusz delivery for a two-run homer to center. Still, the Orioles were within reach until Bourjos' homer made it a 5-1 game.
Playing from behind for most of the night, the Orioles' offense continued to struggle. Their runs came on two homers — one that was too little, another that was too late.
They stranded nine men on base, including five in scoring position. Over their past 10 games, the Orioles are hitting .096 with runners in scoring position (5-for-52) and have scored three runs or fewer in nine of those 10 games.
"It's part of the game," center fielder Adam Jones said. "We're going to go out there tomorrow and put ourselves in the same situations and hopefully come through. We're going up there swinging, we're not going up there passive. No one's making excuses in there; we're just frustrated that we're not getting it done."
The Angels' Mark Trumbo launched a mammoth shot off reliever Tommy Hunter to lead off the seventh, and former Orioles farmhand John Hester, who had a career-high three hits, took Kevin Gregg deep in the eighth to make the score 7-1.
Wilson Betemit hit his 10th homer of the season off Angels reliever Jason Isringhausen in the eighth, a towering two-run shot that hit off the right-field foul pole. Steve Pearce put the Orioles on the scoreboard with a solo homer to left in the fifth. It was the only run that Angels' starter C.J. Wilson allowed in six innings of work, holding the Orioles to just six hits.
"It's very mental," Pearce said of the Orioles' offensive struggles. "You've got to just let the game play out. You try to do too much and bad stuff happens. You let the game play, and try not to stress over those kind of situations. You've just got to let it happen."