ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — The Orioles carried leads into the bottom of the seventh inning for three straight nights this week at Tropicana Field, but return home from their three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays with just one win.
The club’s growing pains are obvious: A patchwork batting order, a struggling defense and a bullpen in flux. All of that was clear in the Orioles’ series against the Rays.
On Thursday night, the new-look bullpen took the loss, 5-4, and the Orioles ended their nine-game road trip to face the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Rays with a 3-6 record.
“There will be some really good feelings about what could be and what’s going to be, and there’ll be some times where you know you have to go through some growing pains,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
The Orioles reached the 80-loss mark quicker than any team in franchise history (115 games). The 1988 team lost 77 games in their first 115 games.
Reliever Cody Carroll (0-1), making his third major league appearance after coming to the Orioles from the Yankees in the Zach Britton trade, allowed two runs in the seventh.
Carroll, who had allowed one hit and one run over his two previous one-inning relief appearances, loaded the bases by surrendering back-to-back two-out walks to Mallex Smith and Matt Duffy, then allowed a two-run single to Jake Bauers, turning a 4-3 Orioles lead into a one-run deficit.
“He’ll learn from it,” Showalter said. “I expect him to be better the next time out. I try to keep in mind, like I think we all should, that these guys are making major league debuts and kind of seeing things for the first time. So, I try to keep that in mind. But they’re going to get a great opportunity here.”
With the Orioles (35-80) dropping two of three at Tropicana Field, they are 3-14-2 in road series this season, haven’t won a series on the road since June 22-24 at the Atlanta Braves and have won only one road series against an American League team — April 5-8, when they took three of four at Yankee Stadium on their first road trip of the season.
It doesn’t get easier for the Orioles, who return home to play four games in three days against a Boston Red Sox team with the best record in the major leagues.
Third baseman Renato Núñez’s seventh-inning solo homer broke a 3-3 tie, a blast off right-hander Yonny Chirinos that went an estimated 425 feet onto Tropicana Field’s left-field walkway.
“Yes, even if you do well, you always want to win,” Núñez said. “We lost so we’re disappointed. So hopefully tomorrow, we get a good start against the Red Sox and get the W.”
Right-hander David Hess came one out short of his first quality start since June 7 at the Toronto Blue Jays, allowing three runs on four hits and three walks over 5 2/3 innings. Hess couldn’t hold a one-run lead in the sixth.
After striking out the side in the fifth, Hess allowed back-to-back leadoff singles in the sixth to Smith and Duffy, then a sacrifice fly to Bauers that Trey Mancini flagged down in the left-field corner.
“It’s just a lesson that you’ve got to keep your foot on the pedal because guys that are hitting ninth here are hitting third in Triple-A and guys on the bench are hitting third and fourth in Triple-A,” Showalter said. “So, there’s danger everywhere you go. His balls to strikes weren’t as good as you might think they were the way [Hess] cruised.”
Center fielder Joey Rickard — a former Rule 5 draft pick taken from the Rays (58-57) — continued to cause headaches for his old team, putting the Orioles up 2-0 with a two-run triple in the second inning off Rays opener Hunter Wood.
Rickard roped an 0-2 slider into the left-center-field gap, scoring both Mancini and Chris Davis, who both singled, sliding into third with his first career major league triple. Fifteen of Rickard’s 20 RBIs this season have come against the Rays.
Rookie Austin Wynns then followed with an opposite-field RBI bloop single to right field to score Rickard, a hit that came with the Rays playing three infielders on the left side of second base.
After allowing a walk to Ji-Man Choi in the sixth, Hess left the game with two on and two outs in the inning, and Donnie Hart retired the only hitter he faced to keep the game tied.
Hess was helped by his defense in the third when second baseman Jonathan Villar’s relay throw home cut down Smith at the plate, preventing a run from scoring on Duffy’s RBI double.
Choi’s fourth-inning solo homer off Hess — which came on one of the five changeups Hess threw — cut the Orioles’ lead to 3-2.
“I think fastball command was a little better than it has been in the past,” Hess said. “My slider was a little better than it has been as well. I think just really being able to mix up locations in and out of the zone a little bit. I think that overall the results weren’t incredible. There’s still work to be done, but I think it was better than it has been, so it’s a step in the right direction.”
Chirinos, who entered the game in the third inning, allowed just one run — Núñez’s homer in the seventh — over five innings, yielding just three hits while striking out four.