The Baltimore Orioles lose to the Detroit Tigers, 4-2, to open the series. (Jon Meoli, Baltimore Sun video)
The Orioles certainly signed up for this. Andrew Cashner likely did not.
With six innings of three-run ball to notch his third straight quality start of the season, Cashner and the Orioles still came up on the wrong end of Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers on a legitimately freezing night at Comerica Park.
Cashner has given the Orioles a chance to win in three of his four starts since signing a two-year, $16 million deal in late February to join the team's barren rotation.
They didn't again, because four runs proved too many for the offense to overcome. It's become too much of a trend. Cashner, Dylan Bundy and the rest of the rotation have been good more often than they have been bad. The Orioles have little to show for it.
"We don't hit very well, and they pitched real well," manager Buck Showalter said. "You hate getting some quality pitching performances like we're getting and not being able to cash in on them, but it'll happen."
After getting his first taste of a legitimate big league offense last year with the Texas Rangers, following years of low run support with the likes of the San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins, Cashner hardly could have thought he'd run into such problems with the once-vaunted Orioles offense. He's lamented after his past two starts that this has been how he's had to pitch his whole career.
As the Orioles fell to 5-12, losers of four straight and six of seven, it's clear that for now, even a good start for Cashner isn't enough to break out of it.
Center fielder Adam Jones, one of two Orioles with a multi-hit day, believes it's what's gnawing most at a team that's unfamiliar to slow starts.
He said: "The worst part? That's a good question. The starters are going out there and doing their job, and the offense is not. I think we have a very, very good offense, but right now, we're not clicking together."
"I think the biggest thing is we just haven't had that break," Cashner said. "The breaks have been going the wrong way. I still believe in all of our guys — look at the track record of all our guys, and man, it's there. We've just got to do better."
It wasn't the seven shutout innings he posted in his previous start, but Cashner kept the Orioles in a game that would have been very easy to lose touch of. Even with a first-pitch temperature of 36 degrees, the wind chill factor put it about 10 degrees cooler. Actual attendance was no more than a quarter of the announced 15,530 tickets sold, creating a dead atmosphere. There wasn't much to spur the Orioles on, save for the hopes of beating a team not included on the list of playoff teams that litter their April schedule and jump-starting a season that's been pretty cold itself.
A two-run home run by Victor Martinez put the Orioles down early, then left fielder Trey Mancini's second home run of the season to almost the exact same spot in left halved that deficit.
But the Orioles left two on base in the fourth inning and scored just once in a promising fifth inning. With runners on first and second and two down, Jones singled to right field. But Manny Machado tried for third, expecting the throw to go home, and was thrown out easily to end the inning.
"Manny's a good base runner," Showalter said. "That wasn't ... He knows with Gentry at second base with two outs, he's going to score easily there. Just a mistake we made. You never know what would have happened with [Danny] Valencia there, but that isn't what beat us. We just didn't swing the bats well, consistently."
Cashner allowed a bunt single to Leonys Martin and a triple to third baseman Jeimer Candelario to score the go-ahead run for the Tigers. Otherwise, he was his average self, allowing three runs on seven hits with three walks and six strikeouts to bring his ERA to an even 3.00 through four starts.
The Orioles managed nothing against the Tigers' well-rested bullpen — weather had kept them from playing since Friday. Brad Brach, a closer who hasn't worked since Wednesday, pitched a scoreless seventh inning before Mychal Givens yielded a run in the eighth on a blooper, a walk and a wild pitch.
But an Orioles offense that rates as one of the league's worst didn't do anything to change the result. With two runs or fewer now in eight of 17 games, they're averaging 3.12 per game. Three of those games are Cashner's starts. With 12 strikeouts Tuesday, they have 189 on the season — 11.12 per game. They only took three at-bats with a runner in scoring position, and the one they scored on ended up ending the inning anyway.
"Everybody in that locker room knows that we're not clicking offensively right now, so everybody's trying to push and do it all in one at-bat, one swing," Showalter said. "[Hitting coach] Scott [Coolbaugh] and they all talk about it. We talk about it in every advanced meeting and around the cages. It's tough for guys at this level to kind of pull back, kind of like a pitcher where more is not always better. But it'll happen."