Orioles catcher Matt Wieters talks with starter Zach Britton… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
Orioles prized left-hander Zach Britton won five of his first six starts, emerging as the team's biggest early-season success story and a legitimate American League Rookie of the Year candidate.
A stretch of one win over 10 starts certainly has a way of quieting such talk.
Britton allowed four earned runs in 5 2/3 innings Tuesday night and remained with just one victory since May 1 as the Orioles lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-2, in the series opener before an announced 20,556 at Camden Yards.
"We're not looking at the finished body. This is a 23-year-old young man trying to establish himself in the big leagues with about half a year in Triple-A, and he's doing well," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "That's the top-hitting team in the National League. It's more a case of us not doing much against [Kyle] Lohse and their bullpen other than [Ryan] Franklin. Holding them to three or four, we'll take that."
Lohse and Lance Lynn combined to shut the Orioles out for seven innings before J.J. Hardy's solo homer off Franklin in the bottom of the eighth. Adam Jones hit an RBI double later in the inning before Fernando Salas came on to get the final five outs.
At 35-41, the Orioles, who were coming off a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds in which they totaled nine home runs, are back to a season-low six games under .500. Britton is back to .500 for the season at 6-6; Tuesday's loss was his fifth over his past six decisions.
"We look at the last couple starts, and there are a handful of starts I could have won easily," Britton said. "We think about that. It's not that I haven't pitched well. There are games that I haven't pitched well at all and deserved to lose. But at the same time, I knew throughout some of these stretches [that] I threw the ball [well]. It just hasn't worked out for me in the win-loss column."
Britton didn't pitch terribly, allowing seven hits and two walks. He probably would have pitched deeper into the game, but Showalter opted to go to his bullpen after a 28-minute rain delay that came with two outs in the sixth, two batters after Colby Rasmus had deposited Britton's slider onto the flag court to give the Cardinals (42-38) a 4-0 lead.
The Cardinals, who were playing the first game at Camden Yards in franchise history, added two more after Britton left on Jon Jay's sacrifice fly in the sixth and Matt Holliday's two-run homer off Jason Berken in the seventh. Holliday made another bid for a two-run shot off Berken in the ninth, but left fielder Luke Scott scaled the wall to take it away. Scott limped back to the dugout and was removed from the game in the bottom half for a pinch hitter.
He was diagnosed with a right knee bruise and is considered day-to-day.
"I guess there was a bunch of poles back there holding the padding up, and that's where that little mark is from," Scott said, pointing to his knee.
"I just banged my knee, like a contusion, and banged my shoulder and my face a little bit. My knee is what stiffened up the most."
The game essentially was decided in the top of the second inning, when Britton allowed a one-out infield single to David Freese and walked Rasmus. He retired Yadier Molina for the second out before issuing consecutive RBI singles to Mark Hamilton, Nick Punto and Ryan Theriot. Those three hit eighth, ninth and first in the Cardinals' lineup, which doesn't include slugger Albert Pujols, who is on the disabled list.
"The second inning, obviously, I just couldn't stop the bleeding," Britton said. "It seems like the last couple outings, it's a bad inning that kind of gets me. It's a lot of singles, so that's a good sign. It's not a lot of extra-base hits. It's just a matter of better pitch location and then really putting my foot down and stopping the inning before it gets big."
Britton escaped a jam in the third and retired eight of nine batters before Rasmus' 400-foot homer in the sixth.
During his stretch of one win in 10 starts, Britton has allowed one earned run or fewer four times. He has surrendered three earned runs or fewer in seven of those contests but has been hurt by either a key error -- as was the case with Blake Davis' two-run gaffe in Britton's previous start against the Pittsburgh Pirates -- a lack of run support or a couple of ill-timed pitches.
"It's very misleading," Scott said of Britton's win-loss record.
"He's done a great job every game that we've played with him on the mound. We've sometimes struggled offensively, but he's done a good job for us. He's kept his pitch count pretty low, got a lot of outs, gotten a lot of ground-ball outs and he's done a good job."
Tuesday night was a case of the Orioles' offense giving him precious little help. Lohse (8-4) allowed four hits and a walk over five innings before Cardinals manager Tony La Russa opted to take him out after the delay with the righty's pitch count sitting at 69. Lynn struck out five of the seven batters he faced in two scoreless innings.
"Very typical of Dave Duncan pitching staffs, they locate the fastball [on] the arm side down [and] away, and if you can't make the adjustment to that, you're going to have a tough time," Showalter said.
"They've been doing it a long time, a lot of different teams, and Lohse was a great example of that tonight. We knew what he was going to try to do, and still the best pitch in baseball is the fastball down and away."