OAKLAND -- After getting a late start to the season due to his belated signing out of free agency, Alex Cobb is finally starting to feel like himself again. And it's starting to show.
After getting hit around in the first three starts of his Baltimore career, the 30-year-old right-hander twirled his second consecutive quality start in Sunday's series finale against the A's.
But in another installment of the Orioles' season-long struggles to synchronize their hitting, pitching and fielding, an untimely defensive miscue and another silent game from the bats meant that the O's couldn't take advantage of Cobb's strong outing in a 2-1 loss to Oakland that sealed a winless road trip.
Baltimore has now lost six straight games and 12 consecutive road contests dating back to April 13.
"One night, one aspect may show up, the next night, it's another one," catcher Caleb Joseph said. "You're grasping at straws when you can't put a game together, and we can't put a game together right now."
Cobb, who is at his best when he generates ground balls and misses bats, recorded nine groundouts against three flyouts. He allowed five hits and two runs -- one earned -- in six innings. He struck out a season-high five batters, but he hopes that the strikeout totals will rise as he continues to develop a feel for his secondary pitches.
"I think that's very safe to say that was just the best rhythm I've been in," Cobb said. "Less thinking, more just, get the ball in your hand, visualizing the pitch you want to throw, and then executing it. That just comes with repetition and getting better feel out there. Hopefully, it gets better and better and continues to improve with each outing."
The split-finger changeup was more prominent in Sunday's outing, as Cobb generated three ground balls and induced seven swinging strikes with the pitch, including three swinging strikeouts. Getting more comfortable with that additional secondary pitch was critical to Cobb's continued success.
"You can only go to the curveball so many times before they start picking up on it," Cobb said. "It's coming now. Just repetition and throwing. Getting off that late start, it was tough to get the sharpness of the pitches."
The O's took an early 1-0 lead on a Pedro Alvarez solo homer in the second inning, but much like in Friday's contest, the A's made Baltimore pay dearly for a key gaffe on defense.
After Matt Joyce led off the fourth with a double, Cobb induced a soft chopper to the mound from Mark Canha. He threw to third, appearing to catch Joyce in a rundown, but Alvarez was initially unable to handle Cobb's throw cleanly, and then proceeded to throw the ball over the head of second baseman Engelb Vielma and into shallow right field.
"I just rushed myself after I dropped it and didn't have a good grip on the ball," Alvarez said. "It just slipped out of my hand."
The A's cashed in for two runs on a Khris Davis RBI groundout and an RBI double from Matt Olson, giving them the lead for good.
Cobb wasn't upset with Alvarez -- rather, he was more upset at himself for missing the opportunity to limit the damage, which, in his mind, could have been a turning point for the team.
"I don't think most fans or outside eyes realize that when you do something like that for a teammate, then it energizes the group," Cobb said. "I saw it as an opportunity for me to really pick us up, and I didn't. So it was a lost moment for me."
Alvarez's homer notwithstanding, the O's bats didn't put up much of a fight against Oakland starter Andrew Triggs, who retired 21 of the 23 Orioles he faced while tying a career high with nine strikeouts. A Jace Peterson single accounted for Baltimore's only other baserunner until the ninth inning, when the O's rallied but stranded the tying run at third.
"Getting your brains beaten in every night stinks," Joseph said. "We've got to do better, do the fundamentals correctly, clean it up. All aspects."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Rally falls short: The O's could muster only two baserunners in the first eight innings against Triggs and reliever Lou Trivino, but they still got a chance to tie the score in the ninth, when Oakland closer Blake Treinen allowed a leadoff swinging bunt single to pinch-hitter Trey Mancini, who moved to second on a wild pitch with nobody out.
Craig Gentry's sacrifice bunt moved Mancini to third with one out, but Peterson couldn't bring home Mancini, who had to stay put on Peterson's sharp grounder to second. An intentional walk to Manny Machado was followed by a Chris Davis flyout to end the game.
The Orioles were 3-for-20 with runners in scoring position in the series, and 0-for-9 in such situations in the past two games.
The Orioles struck out 40 times over the three-game series with the A's, their most punchouts as a team in a three-game series this season. Their previous highest strikeout total had been 35, against the Red Sox from April 13-15. Baltimore almost matched that in just the first two games after striking out 11 times in the opener and a whopping 20 times on Saturday.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Alvarez's second-inning solo shot into the right-field bleachers, his seventh long ball of the year, was the hardest-hit ball of the series by either team, with an exit velocity of 114.2 mph and an estimated distance of 433 feet. That tied Alvarez's second-hardest hit homer of 2018, behind a round-tripper measured at 115.9 mph against Boston's Hector Velazquez on April 14.
HE SAID IT
"We're not very good on defense. We haven't been very good offensively. Our baserunning has stunk at times. Every phase. Absolutely every phase. Starting pitching, relieving, closing, defense, outfield, infield, you name it. We need to improve on everything… Nobody's going to feel sorry for you. There's blood in the water right now and there's a bunch of sharks coming after us. We've got to man up, grow up, and start playing better, period. No ands, ifs or buts about it." -- Joseph, on the Orioles' slow start to the season
The O's will hope that Monday's off-day will give Adam Jones (sore right wrist) and Mancini (sore knee) a chance to mend before Tuesday night's 7:05 p.m. ET series opener against the Royals at Camden Yards. Right-hander Dylan Bundy (1-4, 3.76 ERA) has allowed five homers in his past two starts to halt an effective start to the season. Baltimore expects to activate second baseman Jonathan Schoop from the disabled list to join the lineup against Royals lefty Danny Duffy (0-4, 5.63).