CLEVELAND — As dominant as he was in his first two major league starts, Orioles rookie left-hander Zach Britton knew there were going to be nights like this.
There were going to be times when he didn't have his top stuff and even his better pitches were being redirected through holes in the Orioles' infield. There were going to be nights when the opposing pitcher was just better, and his offense gives him little margin of error.
It was just not a good night for the inevitable to happen. Looking to stop the Orioles' four-game slide that is making their surprising start a distant memory, Britton allowed four of his five runs in a rocky third inning and the club's slumping lineup was shut down by Justin Masterson in an 8-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians in front of an announced 16,346 at chilly Progressive Field.
"I'm a little more disappointed right now because I had a good opportunity, I felt like, to get us back on track and I really didn't do my part," said Britton, who allowed five runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out six. "That's frustrating, but I'm not going to remember this start going into the next one. I'm going to keep focusing on keeping the ball down, getting ground balls and I think more times than not, I'll have success when I do that."
The Orioles' fifth straight loss, which morphed into a blowout when the Indians (9-4) scored three runs in the seventh off Josh Rupe, officially drops them back to the .500 mark at 6-6, and guarantees a losing road trip. Jeremy Guthrie will try to stop the streak Saturday afternoon against his former team, and a little help from the Orioles' offense would be welcome.
During their losing streak, the Orioles' offense has tallied just 12 runs in five games. They've also scored just two runs over their past 14 innings.
"It's been frustrating on our side," said third baseman Mark Reynolds, who drove in a ninth-inning run with an infield single and is tied with Brian Roberts for a team-leading 10 RBIs. "The pitching has been there for us for the most part. You can't expect these guys to go out and throw one or two-run ballgames all the time. I can't put my finger on what it is, why we're not hitting. But hopefully, the more games we play, the more we'll start to mesh a little bit and we'll have people get some big hits. Hopefully, we'll put some runs up and take some of the pressure of our pitchers.
Friday night, the Orioles' only run off Masterson came courtesy of Luke Scott's two-out RBI single in the fourth inning, his first RBI this season. Other than the Orioles' three-hit fourth, Masterson was in complete control, allowing just four hits over seven innings to improve to 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA this season.
"We'll be fine. We'll be a good offensive team," said Showalter, who doesn't have one regular hitting over .260 unless you count shortstop Cesar Izturis, who is hitting .285 in J.J. Hardy's absence. "Batting averages fluctuate 20 points per at-bat right now. I don't spend a lot of time on it. I'm aware of what our guys' track records are more than what they are doing now."
Britton, who is now 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA, certainly wasn't as sharp as he was in his previous start when he threw 72/3 shutout innings against the Texas Rangers. However, most of the Indians' damage off the prized rookie came on a series of well-placed singles. Travis Hafner's 400-foot solo homer off Britton in the sixth that extended Cleveland's lead to 5-1 was obviously an exception.
"They're kind of hot I guess, but looking back at the video, the pitches were down, but they were still over the plate," Britton said. "I have to make better pitches in that [third] inning, especially when I'm ahead. I feel I have to close that inning out and I didn't do that."
In his first 15 2/3 big league innings, including two Friday night when he disposed of the first six hitters that he faced in 24 pitches and struck out three of them, the 23-year-old Britton allowed one run on seven hits.
In the third inning Friday night, he was touched for four runs and six hits. The one extra-base hit in the inning actually should have been an out as Scott's throw from left field to third beat Matt LaPorta, who was trying to leg out a leadoff triple. However, Reynolds dropped the ball before applying the tag.
Catcher Lou Marson then grounded a single past a diving Roberts at second base to score the game's first run. Adam Everett bounced a single into center field and Michael Brantley loaded the bases with a bunt single. Asdrubal Cabrera made it 3-0 with a two-run groundball single up the middle.
When Shin-Soo Choo flared a single into left center field, the bases were again loaded and there were still no outs. Britton struck out Shelley Duncan for the first out before Hafner hit a sacrifice fly for a 4-0 Indians lead.
After the play, the Orioles appealed that Cabrera tagged up and left too early on his way to third. Second base umpire Ed Hickox agreed and called Cabrera out. It was an odd end to the roughest inning in Britton's young career.
"He's going to have some bumps. He's not going to be perfect," Showalter said. "He was pretty good tonight. I was proud of him. ... He kept pitching. Some of our guys haven't shown the ability to get through that at times. He did tonight. It's a process for him."