Hunter struggles as Orioles fall to Blue Jays

The Orioles' starter Friday night hadn't pitched in that capacity since October, when Tommy Hunter took the ball for the Texas Rangers in Game 4 of the World Series.

Their starting second baseman, Cesar Izturis, hadn't appeared in a big league game in more than three months and had started just one game at that position all season.

Mark Reynolds made his third start of the season at first base, and Josh Bell made his first start at third. With first baseman Chris Davis and shortstop J.J.Hardy unavailable, Orioles manager Buck Showalter's bench consisted of three players.

This is what things have come to for the Orioles, who lost another game, falling to the Toronto Blue Jays, 5-4, in front of an announced 18,770 at Camden Yards, and lost another key pitcher to the disabled list.

While the status of Hardy (sore left ankle) and Davis (undisclosed) is uncertain, the Orioles put rookie starter Zach Britton on the disabled list with a left shoulder strain before the game. His absence will continue to force Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair to find a combination of starters capable of giving the Orioles a chance to win on most nights.

That task has been elusive. Hunter, the burly right-hander whom the Orioles acquired from the Rangers last Saturday along with Davis for reliever Koji Uehara, will get an extended look in the rotation. In his first opportunity to start for his new club, Hunter allowed four runs on eight hits and a hit batter over four innings in taking the loss.

"It's the walks we didn't take advantage of," Showalter said. "We were patient. And I liked what we were against the left-handers over in Kansas City. We got them out there, we just couldn't get them in. We had some guys pressing to try to drive in the run there instead of letting it come to them. A lot of them were out of the zone. We've got to finish off those innings when you do the things to set them up. We've been saying that a lot."

The Orioles (43-66) took an early two-run lead on Adam Jones' career-high-tying 19th home run in the first inning, but that was one of their few highlights as they lost their third straight and their 12th in the past 17 contests, and fell to a season-worst 23 games under .500.

After dropping the first game of a 10-game homestand, the Orioles are 3-7 against the Blue Jays (57-55) this season and 6-22 against them over the past two years. They're also just 13-30 against American League East foes this season.

Hunter, who hadn't pitched more than three innings in a big league game since July2, battled to get through four innings, needing 78 pitches. He also didn't get a whole lot of help from his defense, with Izturis figuring in the Jays' two-run third inning, and then prolonging the fourth with a failure to make a routine tag on a stealingAaron Hill.

"Two-out hits, 2-0 hits, 0-2 counts that went to 3-2 -- there was plenty of stuff," Hunter said. "I just didn't throw well. Pitching's pitching. You've still got to throw strikes. I didn't get ahead, I didn't finish when I got ahead and when I got behind, I gave up hits. There's really no excuses for it, and when they go out and give you two early runs like that, you've got to go out and get a couple goose eggs up there, and I didn't do that tonight."

Added Showalter: "Stuffwise he was really good, but those two-out hits. It was a first step for him, getting built up a little bit. I think you'll see him get better and better. I know he's a little frustrated with the two-out hits."

Making his much-anticipated big league debut, third baseman Brett Lawrie put the Blue Jays on the board with a two-out RBI single in his first major league at-bat. Yunel Escobar followed with an RBI double to tie the game at 2 in the second inning.

Jose Bautista led off the third with a single and then Hunter hit Edwin Encarnacion. Recent addition Colby Rasmus gave Toronto a 3-2 lead with an RBI single that left runners on the corners with one out.

Hunter got Hill to hit what should have been a double-play ball, but Izturis struggled with the exchange at second base and Hill beat his throw by a half-step at first base.

Troy Patton did a superb job, relieving Hunter and retiring the first nine hitters he faced before seemingly running out of gas in the eighth. All three Blue Jays that he faced in the eighth reached base, with Adam Lind hitting an infield single, Encarnacion drawing a four-pitch walk and Rasmus beating out a sacrifice bunt attempt.

Chris Jakubauskas inherited Patton's bases-loaded, no-out jam and allowed just one run on Hill's sacrifice fly. Shortstop Robert Andino made a good play to cut down Encarnacion at the plate, and left fielder Nolan Reimold made a perfect throw after fielding Lawrie's single to nail Rasmus at the plate to end the inning.

However, the Orioles could have used some clutch hitting to go along with the good defense. Facing soft-tossing left-hander Brad Mills, the Orioles drew back-to-back walks in the third inning. But Jones, who hit a towering two-run homer off Mills in the first, flied out on his first pitch, and Vladimir Guerrero lined into a double play.

Mills then issued back-to-back one-out walks in the sixth. Matt Wieters cut the Orioles' deficit to one with an RBI single on a ball that ate up Lawrie. Toronto manager John Farrell, who would be ejected an inning later by home plate umpire Brian Knight, removed Mills and brought in lefty Luis Perez. He retired Reimold and Bell to end the sixth.

Still trailing by a run, the Orioles had men on first and second with no outs in the seventh as Izturis singled and Andino reached on an error. However, Perez struck out Nick Markakis looking. Jesse Litsch then came on to fan Jones and retire Guerrero on a flyout to the warning track in left field.

The Orioles cut their deficit to one run off closer Jon Rauch in the ninth as Andino hit a two-out single and Markakis connected for an RBI double. However, Rauch retired Jones on an infield pop-up to pick up his 11th save.



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