Despite solid outing by Tillman, Orioles' losing streak hits eight

Righty allows 3 runs in 6 2/3 innings, but team falls, 5-3, to Twins

  • The Orioles' Nick Markakis is hit by a pitch from the Twins' Jose Mijares in the seventh inning at Camden Yards.
The Orioles' Nick Markakis is hit by a pitch from the Twins'… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
April 19, 2011|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

Heading into this season, the Orioles, to a player, were excited about the revamped offense that included a new foursome that had hit 950 career homers.

After Monday's 5-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins -- their eighth consecutive defeat -- the Orioles are desperately close to passing the Twins for the fewest runs scored in the American League this season, closing the gap to 54-50.

It is starting to seem like old, tough times at Camden Yards, where an announced 13,138 watched the home team get 12 base runners and score just three runs, all on solo homers. The Orioles, though, are still echoing the chorus that it is early and their new-tooled lumber soon will end its slumber.

"I am still excited about [the offense]. You've never heard about anybody going in a slump? It's, what, [15] games in the season or whatever many games?" said Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who homered in a two-run seventh. "Not everybody is going to rake the entire season. So it's a spell. Let's get all of it out the way now and come back tomorrow ready to swing the bats."

The Twins (6-10) entered Monday without three key members of their lineup: Joe Mauer (bilateral leg weakness), Justin Morneau (flu-like symptoms) and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (broken leg).

By the end of the night, after getting two insurance runs against closer Kevin Gregg in the ninth, the Twins had tied their season high for runs scored. Meanwhile, the Orioles scored three runs or fewer for the sixth time during this eight-game losing streak.

They have plated just 20 runs in their past 77 innings, dating to the fourth inning of their last victory, the first game of the April 9 doubleheader against the Texas Rangers.

The ballyhooed new foursome of Derrek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy (who had just 15 at-bats before going on the disabled list with a strained oblique) has combined for three homers, 18 RBIs and a .222 batting average in 180 at-bats.

Nick Markakis, Lee, Guerrero and Reynolds, the Orioles' two through five hitters Monday, were a combined 0-for-12 with three walks.

"I'm not stranger to this myself. A few of us have been down this road many times," said Luke Scott, whose ninth-inning, pinch-hit homer against Matt Capps (second save) got the Orioles within two runs. "The choice is ours. We'll see how we respond. I think we'll bounce back just fine."

It's the longest skid for the Orioles (6-9) since they lost 10 straight games from May 26 to June 5 last year. And it comes on the heels of a 6-1 start.

"It's frustrating right now. Nothing is really going our way," said Orioles starter Chris Tillman (0-2). "We're all kind of frustrated. We've got to keep plugging away."

Looking to rebound from Wednesday's terrible start in New York in which he didn't get through two innings, Tillman made it into the seventh Monday. For a while, it looked as if he wouldn't make it that long. He threw 24 pitches in a two-run second that featured a two-run double by catcher Drew Butera.

But the young right-hander settled down and retired 16 of 18 after that. The only other run he allowed was in the fourth on Danny Valencia's groundout after Tillman had given up a leadoff single and a double.

"I wouldn't say I'm pleased. I felt OK about it," said Tillman, who allowed six hits and struck out five in 6 2/3 innings, his longest stint this season. "It wasn't good enough. It's definitely a work in progress here. From the last start to this start, I've come a long way. I still have a lot of work to do, but it was OK."

Tillman again struggled with his velocity, reaching 91 mph on a few occasions, but he mainly threw his four-seam fastball in the mid- to high 80s. He had much better command, however, throwing 62 of his 96 pitches for strikes while walking none.

"He was better," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Obviously, they're operating without Morneau and Mauer, but it was good for the most part. He gave us a chance to win. We just didn't give him much offensive support."

Lefty Clay Rapada, making his Orioles debut, entered in relief of Tillman and pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings. He struck out three of the four batters he faced, including Jason Kubel on a 75 mph slider that plate umpire Chris Guccione called a strike. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire argued the call and was ejected by Guccione. It was Gardenhire's 53rd career ejection and first this season.

The Orioles had plenty of chances against Twins starter Francicso Liriano (1-3), who came in with a 9.42 ERA after allowing four runs in each of his first three starts this year. He walked five and allowed base runners in six of the seven innings he pitched but took a shutout into the seventh before giving up solo homers to Jones and Matt Wieters.

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