Gonzalez's stalwart start receives little backing
O's righty takes no-no into sixth before ceding decisive runs in seventh
HOUSTON -- Following Thursday's loss, in which the Orioles' offense squandered a rare quality start, manager Buck Showalter was steadfast in the belief that his club's best baseball was still ahead.
It better hurry up. The O's showed no signs Friday night of turning the corner in a rough three-week stretch as the offense continued to sputter, and right-hander Miguel Gonzalez was the pitcher to pay the price. The result, a 2-1 loss to Houston in the Civil Rights Game, put a backsliding Baltimore club (26-27) 6-13 over its last 19 games and under .500 for the first time since April 22.
"Tomorrow we're just going to come out and bring our attitude. We might amp it up in here," center fielder Adam Jones said following the O's season-high fourth consecutive loss. "Might bring a live chicken. I don't know. Might do something to change it up a little bit around this place."
Change is certainly needed as Baltimore has scored just five runs in its last three games, two of which were Nelson Cruz homers. For the last 7 2/3 innings of Friday's loss, they were held to three singles and a walk, the free pass being their first since the fourth inning of Wednesday's game.
"That's a good way to put it," Showalter said when asked if guys were showing signs of frustration. "We know we're capable of better. I'm going to continue to give the other team credit, but we've beat some good pitchers, too. It's a combination of them playing well and us not doing what we're capable of doing."
Gonzalez gave the O's their 19th quality start in 53 games -- his fourth straight -- and was unhittable for the game's first five innings. But the righty took the loss in the 102-pitch outing as Baltimore's bats -- touted as one of baseball's best lineups entering the season -- had no answer again for an Astros starter.
This time it was lefty Brett Oberholtzer, who became the second consecutive Houston pitcher to hold the Orioles to one run. Oberholtzer, who had allowed 18 earned runs over his four starts coming in, pitched seven effortless innings in his second consecutive dominant start against Baltimore.
"They are pitching their butts off," left fielder Steve Pearce said of an Orioles rotation that saw Ubaldo Jimenez take a loss Thursday despite allowing one run over six innings. "And when our pitchers go out there and do that, to leave with an 'L' or a no-decision is unacceptable. We don't like it. We need to pick it up."
The O's lone run came in the second inning, courtesy of shortstop J.J. Hardy's left-field single that scored Jones. Jones doubled to start the inning and, one out later, Hardy came through to improve to 11-for-28 with 14 RBIs with runners in scoring position.
The Orioles didn't put another man as far as second base off Oberholtzer after that, as the O's mustered just two singles, with the lefty retiring 11 of his final 12.
"I think it's everybody besides Cruz," Jones said. "Whatever he's doing, it's working. We're just trying to do too much individually rather than pass the baton and let the guy behind you do it. Our lineup is really, really strong. Without us getting on base, we kind of limit ourselves, and we're guys who drive runs in. We've just got to get some guys on base and string some hits together, because when we put runners on base, we tend to score."
One of their best chances came in the eighth inning after catcher Caleb Joseph worked a two-out walk to chase reliever Kyle Farnsworth, and Nick Markakis singled off Tony Sipp to give the O's a rare runner in scoring position. But Astros manager Bo Porter brought on his third pitcher of the inning in closer Chad Qualls to retire Pearce.
Jones, one of the team's primary RBI guys, popped up on a bunt attempt with one out in the ninth, and Chris Davis was called out on strikes to end the game.
"I know what it looks like on paper, but you've got to trust what they feel and what they don't feel," Showalter said on the thinking behind his cleanup hitter trying to bunt. "We'll talk like we always do after the fact. Right now, it's not the time for me. He'll certainly have a good reason, and I trust him."
So, what was the reasoning?
"I'm just trying to get on base any way I can," said Jones, who added that he might try to do it more often. "I haven't been swinging the bat the way I want to, driving the ball recently the way I want to. I saw the third baseman back, and any way to get on base with CD [on deck]. He hasn't been swinging the bat well either, but this could be a situation to get him out of it. It would eliminate Qualls' hard slider down in the dirt, and create something different.
"What I was trying to do was do something different than just the norm, and it backfired. But I'm glad I attempted it so it's going to be in the back of their minds."
On Gonzalez's mind through the game's first half was a no-hitter as the right-hander cruised early, but he was done in by the lack of offense.
"He deserved a much better fate," Showalter said of Gonzalez, who didn't allow a hit until speedy Jose Altuve beat out an infield single to Hardy in the sixth.
"Over the course of the season, he has those outings, he's going to win a lot of baseball games for us. It kind of sticks in everybody's craw because you know he deserved to win that ballgame, but you can say the same thing about their starter, too."
At 80 pitches to start the bottom of the seventh, Gonzalez gave up his second hit of the night in Matt Dominguez's leadoff double. One out later, Alex Presley singled past the diving glove of second baseman Jonathan Schoop, and right fielder Markakis came up firing home. Dominguez held firm at third with Joseph nabbing Presley at second for the second out.
But Gonzalez couldn't finish things, with a pair of RBI doubles from bottom-of-the-order guys Robbie Grossman and Jonathan Villar giving Houston the lead and chasing him from the game.
"I wasn't really sure if he caught it or not until it ricocheted back off the wall," Grossman said of watching Pearce try for his game-tying two-bagger to deep left field. "We just stuck with it and kept getting good pitches to hit."
"I was rushing a little bit, but I thought I made my pitches I needed to," Gonzalez said of the seventh inning. "They just capitalized and sat on my fastball. You've just got to work a little more and try to make a little more pitches toward the end."
Right-hander Darren O'Day came on after that and didn't have to throw a pitch, as he got Villar trying to steal third to end the inning. But the damage had already been done, with the two runs seemingly insurmountable the way the O's offense has been going.
"It's frustrating," Jones said. "Obviously, we want to swing the bats better and provide runs for our starting pitchers who, give them all the credit in the world, they're throwing the lights out of the ball. But we just haven't clicked. There's no excuses. We've just got to swing the bats better, piggyback each other. Just got to find a way.
"Where there's a will, there's a way. Keep plugging away and keep going after it."