NEW YORK - After his team was on the wrong end of an offensive onslaught Wednesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he wanted to "let the smoke clear" before deciding whether Zach Britton would make his next scheduled start.
The 12-3 pounding the Orioles took from the Yankees through the raindrops was particularly stinging. The Orioles had a chance to sweep their first three-game series in the Bronx since 1986 and cut the Yankees lead in the American League East to 4 ½ games.
"The tough thing is there was a game there to be won," Showalter said of the loss, which snapped the Orioles' three-game winning streak. "There really was."
Britton (1-1) didn't make it out of a seven-run third inning, lasting just 2 2/3 — his shortest outing of the season — and allowing seven earned runs on seven hits. The seven earned runs matched a career high set in 2/3 of an inning against the Red Sox last July.
In four big league starts this season since being recalled from Triple-A Norfolk on July 17, Britton has struggled. He's reached six innings just once and now owns an 8.35 ERA, allowing 23 hits, 17 earned runs in 18 1/3 innings while issuing 14 walks with 11 strikeouts. In three career starts at Yankee Stadium, Britton has allowed 20 runs (17 earned runs) over 8 innings for an ERA of 19.13.
Asked after the game whether he thought his rotation spot was in jeopardy, Britton admitted he was concerned.
"Yeah, you try not to think about it, but we're in the hunt, and I understand what I have to do to be at this level, and I'm not getting it done right now," Britton said. "So I gotta either do something, or somebody else is going to come up and find a way to do the job.
"And that's the way it should be," he added. "And I understand that. I've been kind of in this situation before, and I gotta do something about it and start earning my keep, so to say."
Britton struggled with his command from the beginning. He said he had trouble getting comfortable with his grip on a damp afternoon. Showalter saw too many of his breaking pitches hanging in the strike zone. Britton issued four walks. All four of those runners scored.
"[I] think [I was] just overthinking things at times," Britton said. "Not being in a good rhythm on the mound, a good pace of the game. You see when the guys were getting on today, when [pitching coach Rick Adair] came out, we kind of talked, 'Hey, let's pick up the pace here a little bit.' I think [it's a matter of] just overthinking things a little bit rather than just being aggressive with my stuff right now."
Britton quickly fell behind in the first inning on Curtis Granderson's solo homer and Andruw Jones' sacrifice fly. The Yankees added two more runs in the second on RBI singles by Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher to make the score 4-1
The sky opened in the third, and the bottom fell out for the Orioles (55-50). The Yankees scored seven runs in the inning — all with two outs. Britton left after allowing an RBI single to No. 9 hitter Jayson Nix. Then right-handed reliever Kevin Gregg allowed a two-run single to Jeter, with both of those runs charged to Britton. Two batters later, after Granderson singled and Swisher walked, Cano lined a grand slam to left field to give the Yankees an 11-1 lead.
"Where we are and knowing what Zach needs to bring, he'll figure it out at some point in his career as a pitcher," Showalter said. "We feel confident about that. It's just not happening right now. It's frustrating for him and for us, because we see glimpses of it."
Despite falling behind early, the Orioles' offense has several opportunities to mount a comeback. The O's totaled 13 hits, eight of the nine starters had hits, and they had at least two baserunners in seven innings. But they went 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position, marking just the second time in franchise history they were hitless in at least 15 at-bats in that scenario.
Making the most of an early 10-run lead, Yankees starter Phil Hughes held the Orioles to one run over six innings despite allowing nine hits.
"I could almost pitch in that kind of lead," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "I might give up five or six."
Four Orioles had mutiple hits, including shortstop J.J. Hardy (3-for-4), who hit his 15th homer of the season in the seventh, a solo shot, off Joba Chamberlain. Endy Chavez drove in the Orioles' other two runs, including one on an eighth-inning double.
"It was nice to come back, obviously, [Tuesday]," said Hardy, referring to the Orioles' 11-5, come-from-behind victory less than 24 hours earlier. "Could we have done that [Wednesday]? Possibly, but it's tough. It was an ugly loss for us. We'll try and forget about it, look at it like we won the series. We've got a big series in Tampa."