MINNEAPOLIS — — As talented as Brian Matusz is, the Orioles fully expected the 23-year-old rookie pitcher would have days like Sunday, when he was knocked around by the Minnesota Twins for six earned runs in 3 2/3 innings.
They also carried the reasonable expectation that the lineup would hit enough to keep the Orioles in most games and take pressure off some of their young starters.
In the Orioles' 6-0 loss to the Twins before a sellout crowd of 38,641 on Sunday at Target Field, Matusz authored his first poor outing of 2010. The offense, however, continued to operate in a daze that has afflicted it all season.
Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn (3-1), who entered the game with a 5.79 ERA and having allowed 44 hits in 32 2/3 innings, pitched seven shutout innings, allowing just four hits — two of which were infield singles — and two walks.
"A lot of guys were beating the ball in the ground because his ball was sinking," said Orioles left fielder Nolan Reimold, who had one of the team's six total hits. "We were hitting on top of it. Of course, that's what he wanted us to do, and that's what we did."
The Orioles (9-23) had to settle for a split of the four-game series, which started with two victories, and a 2-5 road trip. In the final 19 innings of the series, the Orioles scored just one run, on a homer by Luke Scott, and totaled just 10 hits.
Take away the seven runs and 12 hits the Orioles had in Game 1 of Saturday's day/night doubleheader and the Orioles scored just three runs and had 17 hits in the other 27 innings of the series.
"These last couple of games, we're not hitting the way we're supposed to be hitting, but it's a long season," third baseman Miguel Tejada said. "We're not going to be hitting all the time, and we're not going to be like this the whole time. Tuesday is going to be another game, and we're going to try and score some runs."
The Orioles' offensive struggles, of course, go far beyond the past couple of games. On the road trip, they scored one run or fewer in four of the seven games and totaled just 17 runs.
Overall, the Orioles have been held to one run or fewer 10 times in 32 games and shut out on three occasions.
"I'm not helping out any," said Reimold, who is hitting .203 with just two homers and 10 RBIs. "I think sometimes guys start pressing because we know that expectations are a lot higher than what we're showing right now. I guess the big thing is to stop pressing and let the game come to you."
Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday morning that his patience was wearing thin with his hitters.
"I would say there isn't a great deal of time left before they have to start doing more than what they're doing now," MacPhail said. "I'm not staying with them forever. It's not a suicide pact. They either have to start performing or they'll go to [ Triple-A] Norfolk."
In the five games since he said that, the Orioles totaled 15 runs and scored in nine of 45 innings. Monday's day off before the start of an eight-game homestand would be as good a time as any to make some moves that potentially could resuscitate the offense.
"I know Andy's going to consider doing something to give us a little more offense," said Trembley, who acknowledged that he was intrigued by outfielder Corey Patterson, who is hitting .367 in 12 games at Norfolk. "We need to score more runs, and I don't know if it's on any one guy, and I don't know that any one guy is going to be such a factor that he's going to rectify it. I think it's a collective thing, more than two or three guys on a nightly or daily basis."
With the way the Orioles have been hitting, Sunday's outcome appeared to be a formality after the Twins scored three times off Matusz in the third inning. Denard Span hit a two-run triple, and Nick Punto scored him with a sacrifice fly.
Minnesota (21-11) tacked on three more runs in the fourth inning on RBIs from Alexi Casilla, Span and Punto.
The six runs Matusz allowed were a career high, and Sunday's outing marked just the second time in 15 career starts that he didn't go at least five innings.
"I wasn't able to get in a consistent groove with all four pitches," said Matusz (2-3), who has lost three straight starts after winning six straight decisions. "That's what made it hard today, and leaving the ball up."
While Trembley said he wasn't worried about Matusz, chalking the poor outing up to just a bad day, the manager's stagnant offense is providing plenty of reasons for concern.
"There are not too many things that we're putting together collectively that are working in our favor right now," Trembley said.
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