In the month of July, the Orioles made three trades to bolster their pitching to make a run for the playoffs, but on Wednesday against an Astros team that owns the worst record in baseball, they hardly looked like a contender.
“I don't know, honestly,” Orioles left fielder Nate McLouth said, shrugging by his locker. “That was kind of baffling. Pretty safe to say that was our worst game of the year, just all-around. It was embarrassing, actually. I'm glad it's over.”
Houston left-hander Brett Oberholtzer (1-0) looked more like a veteran than a pitcher making his first major league start and just his fourth appearance in the big leagues, tossing seven shutout innings, striking out six and walking none.
Oberholtzer, who was thrust into a starting role earlier in the day when left-hander Erik Bedard was scratched, made easy work of the Orioles, yielding just three singles on the night and only one hit after the third inning.
After being shut out just three times over their first 105 games of the season, the Orioles have been held scoreless in two of their past three.
“We haven't swung the bats real well as of late, kind of collectively,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You don't say that's just one of those things that's going to happen. You want to shorten it up and get back to what we're capable of. Tomorrow's an opportunity to do that.”
The Orioles (59-49) have dropped six of their past eight games, and if they are going to be serious playoff contenders, they must play better against lesser competition. Wednesday's loss dropped their record to 22-21 against teams below .500. Their series against the Astros begins a string of 14 games out of 17 against teams with losing records.
“There are some series and some games that we feel we left out there, but tonight was over pretty quick,” McLouth said. “You've got to throw this one away.
“Our fans don't deserve to see that — that type of performance,” McLouth added. “We'll clean that up. We'll have to get over that one quick.”
The Orioles' 11-run loss on Wednesday was their worst shutout loss in nearly two years, since dropping a 13-0 decision to the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 31, 2011. It was also their largest margin of defeat since losing 19-7 in Minnesota on July 16, 2012.
Earlier in the day, the Orioles acquired right-handed starter Bud Norris from the Astros for outfielder L.J. Hoes, pitching prospect Josh Hader and the club's 2014 competitive balance draft pick.
Come game time, Miguel Gonzalez — one of the Orioles' most dependable starters — struggled mightily for his second straight start. The right-hander suffered the worst outing of his career, lasting just 3 2/3 innings.
Gonzalez (8-5) allowed a career-high nine runs on nine hits, forced from the game after allowing five unearned runs in the fourth inning.
“I think he threw about 68 pitches last time out, an extra days rest,” Showalter said. “I was surprised. I thought he'd be a little better tonight. He wasn't. Breaking ball wasn't very crisp and command of his fastball was an issue for him most of the night. Very unlike Miguel. He'll be better next time out.”
After recording eight straight quality starts, Gonzalez has been roughed up for 15 runs over his past two starts. He allowed a season-high six earned runs over 4 2/3 innings in a 7-1 loss in Kansas City on Thursday.
Wednesday's outing was his shortest major league start since lasting just 2 2/3 innings in a 10-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on July 25, 2012, when he allowed seven earned runs. This is the first time in Gonzalez's major league career than he's failed to make it out of the fifth inning in back-to-back starts.
“My bullpen [session] was great, everything was down, and I thought I was going to go out there and do pretty well,” Gonzalez said. “The first inning was good, second inning I was just leaving the ball up, and it just carried on throughout the whole game. It was just a tough night for me overall. We really didn't want that to happen. It's just tough.”
The Astros (37-70) hit four homers off Orioles pitching, including Robbie Grossman's first career major league homer, a two-run shot of Gonzalez in the second inning that landed on Eutaw Street.
Gonzalez needed just five pitches to retire the Astros in the first inning, but he labored through a 24-pitch second inning in which the Astros scored three runs, all with two outs.
“Everything's been flat,” Gonzalez said. “Even my curveball and my slider was flat today, so you just can't pitch that way. Just a tough night.”
Gonzalez typically uses his split-fingered fastball to keep hitters off balance, but the Astros sat on his fastball throughout the night. Four of Houston's five run-scoring hits came off fastballs.
“It's a pitch that he has most of the time,” Showalter said. “He's survived and pitched well when he didn't have it. Most of the times you go back to an outing like that, it's command of the fastball. Because once you show that, then it opens up a lot of things to you and you don't have to be too perfect. His slider was a little loose tonight, so to speak.”
Eight of the nine Astros starters reached base. The only one who didn't was Hoes, who was 0-for-5 in his Astros debut after switching clubhouses before the game.
The Orioles' biggest scoring threat came in the ninth, when they placed two runners in scoring position after Nick Markakis singled and Taylor Teagarden doubled. But Alexi Casilla flied out to left to end the game.
“Obviously we didn't put any runs on the board,” Hardy said. “Made a big error there that inning, [and] they scored a bunch. Just got to bounce back ... move on and win the series tomorrow.”