The host Nationals batted around in a 41-pitch first inning, scoring four runs and helping themselves to an early, easy lead against the Orioles’ fifth starter on their way to a 6-1 win at Nationals Park.
“A lot of counts not in his favor,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He got ambushed a little bit in the first inning, and it really didn’t look like we were going to mount much.”
Said Asher: “I think my command got away from me a little bit. I fell behind a lot of hitters, and balls just started finding holes. ... It’s tough to stop momentum like that.”
The Orioles (31-27) split their season series against the Nats with each team winning both games at home.
Asher has had starts like this before, including his first outing back in the rotation on May 28 in Houston, when the Astros scored six runs on six hits in two innings. He rebounded in between for a strong start against the Boston Red Sox, but it was trouble from the start again Thursday in a makeup game the Orioles looked like they had little interest being in town to play.
He issued a four-pitch leadoff walk to shortstop Trea Turner, who promptly stole second base and third base before scoring on a single by right fielder Bryce Harper. The Nationals also scored on a single by reserve infielder Stephen Drew, and got a pair of runs on an RBI double by center fielder Michael A. Taylor to round out a big first inning.
Turner also scored the fifth run of the night in the second inning, when he singled, went to second on a Harper walk, advanced to third base after a double steal and scored on a sacrifice fly by reserve first baseman Adam Lind.
Because the Orioles needed to cover 8 1/3 innings of relief Wednesday and had several pitchers unavailable in the bullpen, Asher was made to stay in and take his lumps, ultimately exiting after allowing five runs on seven hits with four walks and six strikeouts in four innings.
He gave way in the fifth inning to Ubaldo Jiménez, who allowed a home run to the first batter he faced before retiring the next seven in order and nine of 10 in three solid innings.
House of cards: The Orioles lineup without third baseman Manny Machado (wrist) and center fielder Adam Jones (soreness) looked a little flimsy when it was posted, and it all but collapsed early against Nationals fifth starter Joe Ross.
Ross, who entered with a 7.34 ERA in six starts this season, struck out 12 of the first 18 batters he faced, with the only blemishes in his first six innings being a two-out single by first baseman Mark Trumbo in the first and a single by right fielder Seth Smith in the sixth.
The Orioles scraped together their only run of the game in the seventh inning, when Trumbo doubled to left-center field, went to third on a groundout and scored on a single by center fielder Joey Rickard to make it 6-1.
Showalter didn’t want to credit his own team’s temporary ineptitude at the plate, instead focusing on Ross.
“I’m not going to take anything away from the young man,” Showalter said. “Obviously, he had a good night statistically and I’m going to leave it at that. I’m not going to try to start taking anything away from a young man’s outing.”
Track meet: Asher’s command problems didn’t help matters, but the Nationals had no fear running on the battery of Asher and catcher Caleb Joseph. They stole five bases in the first three innings, including a double steal by Turner and Harper.
Joseph had entered the day having caught six of 21 (29 percent) attempted base stealers, a solid figure. That plummeted quickly Thursday.
Asher called the running game getting going on him “frustrating,” especially considering he hadn’t faced a stolen-base attempt against all year.
“It was different, but you know, it’s something I’ve got to be better at,” Asher said.