ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — For the fifth time in his last seven starts, Jeremy Guthrie walked off the mound Friday without getting one run of support from his Orioles' teammates.
That pathetic offensive pattern has led to another: Guthrie getting tagged with a loss when he deserved a better fate.
The Orioles were shut out by Tampa Bay rookie Jeremy Hellickson for the second time in six days, this time in a 3-0 loss at Tropicana Field in front of an announced crowd of 20,476.
Dating back to the sixth inning on Wednesday, the Orioles have now scored in just one of their past 23 innings -- the two-run 12th that gave them a comeback victory against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday.
"We've got to figure it out," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "That's why they call it the major leagues. You've got to figure it out."
After sweeping them in the season-opening series in April, the Orioles (17-20) now have dropped four straight to the American League East leading Rays (23-15).
Tampa Bay got all the offense it needed in one swing in the second inning from Matt Joyce, who entered the night leading the AL in hitting with a .358 average.
Evan Longoria led off the second with a dribbler down the third base line that Mark Reynolds attempted to barehand but fumbled into left field. It was ruled a single.
On the next pitch, Joyce hit a 91-mph fastball deep into the right-field stands for a 2-0 lead. It was the fifth homer of the season for Joyce, and the fifth allowed by Guthrie in a span of 11 innings over three games. He gave up another in the eighth, a solo shot to Johnny Damon.
Overall, he allowed seven hits and two walks while striking out five in an eight-inning complete game.
"I felt I was able to accomplish the goals that I had. I wanted to get deep in the game, I wanted to throw the ball down more consistent in the zone. I think I was able to do that much, much better than I have the past few starts," said Guthrie, who allowed seven earned runs in five innings to the Rays last Saturday. "Those were the two things I was really focusing on. I am pleased I was able to do those things at least."
Guthrie has now allowed two homers in each of his past three starts; he had served up just three homers in his first five starts of 2011, covering 32 innings.
"(The home runs) may be situated because of the lack of runs that we scored," Showalter said. "Not a whole lot you can do about the swinging bunt, but if you told me coming in that (you'd give up) three runs in the major leagues, you'd like your chances. But Hellickson obviously was in command. You never felt like you had him lined up. We just didn't have many good at-bats off him."
Guthrie (1-6) picked up the loss, his sixth straight, and he hasn't won since beating the Rays on Opening Day. He is tied with Chicago's John Danks for most losses in the American League.
"It's frustrating. You'd be lying if you said it wasn't frustrating," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said about Guthrie's fate. "But it's something he knows he can't control. He can only control what he does on the mound and he's been doing a helluva job. So it's up to him to keep that up and it's up to us as an offense to string some more hits together and get it going."
Guthrie's record is misleading, considering the woeful amount of run support he has received this season. The Orioles have scored six runs in the last 44 innings that Guthrie has pitched.
"I am a competitor and I want to go out there and pitch as well as I can and so it doesn't factor in. I just go out there and try to do the best I can and today was much better," Guthrie said. "We were in the game throughout and always within striking distance. I thought the guys had some good at-bats and we had a few chances."
The Orioles had chances against Hellickson (4-2), who retired the first six batters he faced before giving up a single J.J. Hardy in the third. They had two runners on in both the fourth and fifth but couldn't capitalize.
With two outs in the fifth and Matt Wieters on second base, Mark Reynolds hit a slow grounder to third and Wieters slid into the base ahead of Longoria's tag. The infield single snapped an 0-for-17 skid for Reynolds.
But Hellickson stranded the runners when Brian Roberts hit the first pitch he saw to center field for the third out. That triggered a run of 13 straight batters retired by Hellickson, who turned in his first career complete game.
"He threw everything, first-pitch strikes, curveball, changeup," Jones said of Hellickson. "He just pitched backwards and had us off-balance completely all night."
Hellickson has now logged 14 consecutive scoreless innings against the Orioles, including last Saturday's performance against Guthrie in which Hellickson gave up three hits and five walks in five innings. On Friday he allowed four hits, one walk and struck out three.
His dominance and the Orioles' inability to score with Guthrie on the mound again made their veteran starter a hard-luck loser.
But Showalter said that's not going to stop Guthrie from taking the ball and attempting to reverse the trend.
"He won't give in," Showalter said. "Timing's everything with something like that. He certainly doesn't want to quit right now. I can tell you that."