ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — The Orioles have struggled to solve the Tampa Bay Rays’ unconventional pitching experiment – using relievers to start games before a traditional starting pitcher enters in the second or third inning – scoring just three runs over the first two games of their weekend series at Tropicana Field.
But after the Orioles’ 5-1 loss to the Rays on Saturday — the ninth time in 11 games in which the Orioles scored three runs or fewer — manager Buck Showalter said the struggles his offense has faced has less to do with the opponent’s newfangled strategy and more with a batting order that been wildly inconsistent all season long.
“It’s been a challenge for us all year regardless of who’s pitching the first or second or third or fourth inning,” Showalter said. “No, I wish I could use that as an excuse.”
One day after a rare low-scoring win in Friday’s openier, the Orioles (17-35) managed just three hits and struck out 11 times against Tampa Bay pitching Saturday. Facing another early deficit – one that probably should have been larger had the Rays been more aware on the base paths — the Orioles offense sputtered.
“We’re consistently inconsistent,” third baseman Danny Valencia said. “That’s really what it comes down to. We’ll play a few games real solid and we’ll play a game where maybe we get away from our approaches at the dish. Tomorrow’s a new day and hopefully we win the series tomorrow.”
A Rays offense that entered Saturday having not scored a run in 13 innings jumped on Orioles right-hander Andrew Cashner early, taking a quick five-run lead two innings in.
With the loss, an Orioles team that approaches the Memorial Day benchmark for evaluating where it stands, fell deeper into the American League East cellar, now trailing the rebuilding Rays (24-26) by eight games and the first-place Boston Red Sox by 19.
Cashner (2-6) allowed 15 base runners – 11 hits and four walks – before being lifted three batters into the sixth without recording an out in the inning. While Cashner allowed five runs, the damage should have been worse. He allowed hits to seven of the first 11 batters he faced, with three of those going for extra bases.
“Just thought I was spinning out of my delivery a little bit,” Cashner said. “Not staying on the baseball. Didn’t really execute very well with anything. A lot of bad misses and not a very good breaking ball. … For me, it’s always the warrior mentality. Just keep making pitches. Never really feel like you want to give in. Keep making pitches for your ballclub and see where you’re at.”
Three batters into the first, with C.J. Cron on first after a one-out single, Joey Wendle pulled a ball just inside the right-field line and into the corner for an RBI triple. Wilson Ramos drove in Wendle with a double, but was thrown out at second when he went in standing up and momentarily came off the bag.
Navigating through the bottom of the Rays order in the second inning, Cashner allowed singles to three of the first four batters he faced, with No. 9 hitter Rob Refsnyder’s single scoring another run. Two batters later, Cron doubled with two outs to drive in two more runs to give Tampa Bay a 5-0 lead.
“Yeah, I think that’s an excuse that, not an excuse, but that’s an obvious thing that we probably have done it enough that we really can’t use that,” Showalter said of his offense struggling battling back from an early deficit. “We’re just not swinging the bats well. We’ve scored three runs in two games and it’s hard for any pitcher to basically have to have a 1-0 shutout to win today.”
Cashner has failed to get through six innings in five of his past six starts after a stretch of four consecutive starts of six innings or more.
“I think it’s just more being shown because of the [team’s] struggles,” Cashner said. “But I still believe in myself. My track record shows. I’ve just got to make pitches.”
For the second straight game, the Orioles faced a reliever to open the game, and hard-throwing right-hander Ryne Stanek retired all five batters he faced, striking out three, before giving way to left-hander Anthony Banda (1-0), who held the Orioles to one run over 6 1/3 innings.
The Orioles’ only run came in the seventh, when designated hitter Chris Davis hit an opposite-field RBI single against the shift to score Manny Machado, who opened the inning with a double.
The Orioles didn’t have a hit until Valencia’s leadoff triple into the left-center-field gap to start the fifth. Valencia was stranded at third after Davis struck out swinging on three pitches, Joey Rickard struck out on four pitches and Andrew Susac grounded out to shortstop to end the inning.
Perhaps the Orioles’ biggest highlight of the day was reliever Tanner Scott, who entered after Cashner loaded the bases with no outs to start the sixth. Scott proceeded to keep the Rays from scoring in the inning by striking out the next three batters in order on 15 pitches.