PITTSBURGH -- Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman said he wasn't fatigued Wednesday night in the Orioles' 9-8 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates after throwing 117 pitches and notching his first major league shutout last Friday in Kansas City.
Tillman said he had no problem with a groin that had bothered him earlier this month or any physical malady that he could use as an excuse for his disaster of an outing Wednesday.
No excuses, he said. He was just bad.
"Coming off a good [start], tried to carry it over and kind of get in rhythm here," said Tillman, who allowed eight runs (six earned) and recorded just three outs Wednesday. "But it was tough. I tried to make the adjustments, but it just wasn't coming to me."
Tillman couldn't locate his fastball on either side of the plate, couldn't figure out what he was doing wrong and, ultimately, Orioles manager Buck Showalter had to mercifully walk onto the mound in the bottom of the second to remove him.
"Chris has spoiled us at a high level of pitching," Showalter said. "He has struggled before early and got back in sync and gave us some strong innings, but it never really came to him tonight."
Despite Tillman allowing four runs in both the first and the second, the Orioles twice battled back: Scoring six runs in the top of the second to take the lead and then putting up two more in the seventh to tie the score at 8.
But Orioles reliever Ryan Webb (2-1) allowed a game-clinching RBI single to catcher Tony Sanchez in the bottom of the seventh, and Pittsburgh relievers Tony Watson and Mark Melancon (seventh save) pitched a perfect inning each to prevent the Pirates (19-26) from being swept in the two-game series at PNC Park and in the four-game season series against the Orioles (23-21).
After struggling offensively for much of May, the Orioles have scored 23 runs in their past three games and are just 1-2. On Wednesday, they had 12 hits and left 10 men on base -- contributing to a road trip that started out 2-0 and ended 3-3.
"We've got to focus on what we did positive," said left fielder Nelson Cruz, who had three hits, including a solo home run and two-run double in the six-run second. "We scored a few runs and gave the pitchers a chance to throw some good innings. It was a rough first two innings. We shut it down. I think we did a real good job coming back from behind and tying the game. But the end, like I said, it's a loss."
Early in the game, the storyline was obvious: The two starting pitchers, Tillman and Pittsburgh left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, couldn't get anyone out.
Tillman was coming off his shutout Friday, the first time he has ever thrown nine full innings in the major leagues. It was a little different Wednesday, which was the second-shortest outing of his career -- longer only than when he lasted two-thirds of an inning on July 16, 2012 in Minnesota. That's the last time an Orioles starter hasn't gone longer than at least one inning.
As has been in the case any time Tillman has struggled this season, he had major trouble early -- he has now given up 21 of his 31 runs this season in the first two innings. He now has an 8.23 ERA in his past six starts not including Friday's shutout.
"I've just got to find it early. All season long I've been struggling early and then trying to find my way through," Tillman said. "But I just got to recognize what's going on early and maybe find it in the bullpen."
On Wednesday, Tillman allowed four runs in a 34-pitch first inning, which featured an RBI double by Andrew McCutchen, a two-run triple by Starling Marte and an RBI single by Ike Davis.
Pittsburgh batted around on Tillman in the first and nearly did it again in the second, when they sent eight batters to the plate. A leadoff walk followed by a hard grounder that skipped past first baseman Chris Davis for an error scored Josh Harrison for the first run in the second.
McCutchen singled and Alvarez followed with another run-scoring hit to chase Tillman after just 44 pitches. Right-hander Brad Brach entered and allowed a bunt single, an RBI single by Davis and a run-scoring double play.
It gave the Pirates an 8-6 lead -- and Brach, who was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk on Friday, made it stay that way for the rest of his outing.
Brach retired 11 of 12 Pirates in what was the longest stint of his professional career, which began in 2008. His previous major league high was two innings, but he threw three for the Tides on May 13 as the Orioles were trying to stretch him out for long relief in the majors.
"It was huge," Showalter said of Brach. "We were able to stay away from some guys, and Brad, that's what we hoped he would be able to do for us."
As his reward, Brach is a potential candidate to be sent back to the minors because he won't be able to pitch for several days, and the Orioles need to refresh their bullpen. Left-hander T.J. McFarland, who was scheduled to start Friday for the Tides, is one possibility to meet the Orioles in Baltimore on Thursday.
"I'd like to keep [Brach] if I can," Showalter said. "I think it's the innings more than the pitch count. I know if I asked him what he'd say."
Showalter also said one of his relievers is dealing with an injury and it's possible a disabled list move could be made.
"I don't know," he said. "We're going to look at it [Thursday] and make sure we have some potential coverage."
Trailing, 4-0, in the second, the Orioles exploded for six runs against Rodriguez. It matched the Orioles' season high for runs in an inning, which was first set in the fifth inning April 23 in Toronto.
Cruz led off the second with his 14th home run of the season, putting him one behind injured Chicago White Sox rookie Jose Abreu for the American League lead. It was the first of two run-producing at-bats for Cruz in the inning.
Rodriguez loaded the bases on a double, infield single and a bunt attempt by Tillman in which Rodriguez rushed a poor throw. Nick Markakis hit a sacrifice fly, Manny Machado added an RBI double and Adam Jones walked for the first time since April 19.
Davis hit an infield single to third to score the fourth run and then Cruz smacked a bouncer that caromed off third base and landed in left field to score two more runs and send Rodriguez to the dugout after just 1 2/3 innings.
The Orioles have not been involved in a game in which both starting pitchers failed to go at least two innings since Kevin Millwood (1 inning) and the Detroit Tigers' Andy Oliver (1 2/3 innings) exited early on July 5, 2010 at Comerica Park.
Wednesday's game remained 8-6 until the Orioles scored twice in the seventh on RBI singles by J.J. Hardy and pinch-hitter Steve Pearce, who hadn't had an at-bat since May 13. Pearce is 11-for-25 in his career against the Pirates, the team that drafted him, after his game-tying single to right.
Third base coach Bobby Dickerson attempted to break the tie by sending Hardy home, but he was thrown out standing up for the second out of the inning.
Ultimately, the Orioles offense is looking much better lately, but they still can't seem to win consistently. They'll now come home for a four-game series against Cleveland.
"We're focusing on what we did positive. We scored a few runs," Cruz said. "The bullpen threw pretty well. Tomorrow we've got a new series, and we've got to focus on that."