“I've just got to get better,” he said.
Up until Wednesday, Gonzalez had been good. In three previous major league starts, he gave the Orioles two quality starts and was just one out away from a third.
But against the Rays, Gonzalez suffered through his worst outing in his young major league career. The Orioles trailed after just one pitch. They were down by five runs before any Oriole hitter picked up a bat.
And the club's string of seven straight quality starts ended abruptly as Gonzalez — a pitcher who relies on his control — went wild in a 36-pitch, five-run first inning in front of an announced 19,582 at Camden Yards.
“Command,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “The thing he's been good with. He didn't really carry the secondary stuff early. The change up, split — that's been a good pitch for him — he didn't really have a feel for it tonight. But he's pitched well for us. Tonight, he didn't.”
The Orioles (51-47), who suffered their third straight loss, dropped into a second-place tie in the American League East with the Rays. They also fell 2 ½ games out of the second AL wild-card spot.
The Rays didn't pound Gonzalez early — the 28-year-old walked one, hit two batters and threw a wild pitch in the first inning — but the tone-setter was Desmond Jennings' solo homer on Gonzalez's first delivery of the game, a 90-mph fastball over the center of the plate that Jennings deposited into the left-field stands.
Gonzalez, who also allowed a leadoff homer to Detroit's Austin Jackson in his first home start on July 15, became the first major league pitcher to yield leadoff homers in his first two home starts in nearly nine years, since Colorado's Chin-Hui Tsao on July 25 and Aug. 6, 2003.
Including Asdrubal Cabrera's first-inning homer off Gonzalez in Cleveland on Friday, Gonzalez has given up homers in the first in each of his last three starts. As a team, the Orioles have allowed 19 first-inning runs in their past 13 games.
“What happens is, when a guy counts on command and making a hitter realize that he has a lot of different pitches that h"ll throw in any count, he kind of needs to establish that early, and he wasn't able to do that,” Showalter said. “And that's been somewhat of a challenge for him.”
Gonzalez (2-2) lasted just 2 2/3 innings and allowed a career-high seven earned runs, the most allowed by an Orioles starter since Jason Hammel yielded eight earned runs June 27 against the Angels. Twelve of the 19 batters Gonzalez faced reached base, including three hit batters and two walks. His ERA went from 2.61 to 4.28 in one night.
Gonzalez, who said he struggled with his grip throughout the outing, sensed a tough night early on.
“I think it was in the first inning,” Gonzalez said. “I couldn't get my command. Obviously whatever happened didn't work out for me. I just want to forget about tonight's game, move forward, and get 'em next time.
“Just mentally I wasn't there tonight,” he said. “The results, it happens.”
Gonzalez then hit back-to-back Rays hitters, the second plating another run to make it 3-0. No. 9 hitter Elliot Johnson's opposite-field slap single to left scored two more.
“His command was just a little bit off tonight,” catcher Taylor Teagarden said of Gonzalez. “He was kind of getting deeper in the first inning where we've got to get outs, and we just couldn't get them right then and there. After about two or three batters of that, they started capitalizing, and all the damage was done at that point.”
Those first-inning runs were plenty against an Orioles team that has scored just one run in each of its last three games. On Wednesday, the O's were held to just seven hits by Rays left-hander David Price, who won his major league leading 14th game of the season, striking out 10 and walking none in seven innings.
The Orioles have scored four or fewer runs in eight of their last nine games and 13 of their last 15. On Wednesday night, they struck out 13 times, their AL-high 35th game of double-digit strikeouts.
“Yeah, we're all frustrated,” said shortstop J.J. Hardy, who drove in the Orioles' only run in the first. “We want to come through for the team, but we've had stretches. Every team I've been on, it seems like we are always having this conversation at some point during the season. And we'll get out of it.”
The Rays added two more homers in the game. Third baseman Ryan Roberts, just acquired in a trade with the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night, hit a two-run homer off Gonzalez with two outs in the third. And catcher Jose Lobaton hit his first major league homer in the fifth, a three-run shot off reliever Matt Lindstrom.
Gonzalez's early exit also forced the Orioles bullpen into early and extended work. Five relievers accounted for the final 6 1/3 innings, leaving Showalter pondering a roster move for bullpen help for Thursday's early afternoon series finale.
“It's something we're talking about,” Showalter said. “We were talking about it after the third inning, because we were trying to map out how we were going to get through the rest of the game without jeopardizing anybody.”