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Hammel, O's on wrong end of pitchers' duel

Jennings' two-run homer in seventh spoils right-hander's solid start

ST. PETERSBURG -- Prior to Friday, the Orioles had faced Rays right-hander Chris Archer just once, on Sept. 13, when he threw 3 2/3 innings in relief and took the loss on a walk-off RBI single by Manny Machado in the 14th inning.

Machado, the only Oriole in the starting lineup with a hit off Archer, delivered again with a third-inning RBI single. But that was all the 24-year-old Archer would allow as he stymied one of baseball's best offenses, combining with the Rays' bullpen to hold the O's to a season-low two hits in a 2-1 series-opening loss at Tropicana Field.

"His defense made some really nice plays and the kid is good," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said of Archer, who tied a career high with seven innings on only 84 pitches. "He's got plus stuff. Everything he throws is plus. And it's going to be exciting to see his maturation over basically this year and the rest of his career, because he's one special talent.

"He's a product of their pitching. You've just got to see how [David] Price, [Jeremy] Hellickson and the rest of their pitchers teach them how to basically learn more at the big league level. I think that kid's got a very, very bright future."

The defeat drops an Orioles club that entered the day tied for the American League lead in road wins (19) to 34-27 on the season.

Baltimore starter Jason Hammel took his first road loss in eight away starts, despite a quality outing.

"I like the pitching duel, because it's fun, it's suspenseful and it means both guys are on their game and executing pitches," said Hammel, who tossed 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball. "Tonight, it just ended up being the one run that cost us and myself, the team, the game. It [stinks], but we have plenty more games to play. It was honestly just a good game tonight."

The 29-year-old Hammel, pitching for the first time since being ejected in the fourth inning of Sunday's game against the Tigers, matched Archer for most of the night as the pair alternated zeros.

Clinging to a one-run lead, Hammel retired 10 of 11 before Rays first baseman James Loney started the bottom of the seventh inning with a hard single to center. Tampa Bay took the lead on the next pitch, with Desmond Jennings blasting Hammel's fastball over the center-field fence, a decisive two-run homer that held up as the difference.

"Ham was pitching as well, if not better, up until [then]," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who replaced his starter two outs later. "There's a fine line there in a game like that and mistakes get magnified. Ham deserved a lot better fate. It was really good to see him pitch as well as he did."

Hammel didn't finish the inning, handing the ball over to lefty Troy Patton after a two-out single and walk kept Tampa Bay threatening. Patton retired Ben Zobrist on a long fly ball to end the rally and Tommy Hunter tossed a scoreless eighth to keep the margin at one heading into the ninth.

But the only scoring the Orioles -- who entered Friday leading the Majors in road average, slugging, OPS and homers per game -- did off Archer came on Machado's RBI single. Chris Dickerson worked one of two free passes in the third inning and hustled home on Machado's bouncer into the outfield. Archer got Nick Markakis to fly out after that, and Baltimore could only muster up one more baserunner off the righty, who turned in the best start of his brief Major League career.

"This kid is a different cat," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Archer, following his second start of the season. "He's really bright. He analyzes everything. He gets it. He's learned how to breathe out there. Sometimes, the bright kids get in their own way. But he doesn't overanalyze things. This validates that he can do this. He was spectacular."

Archer was replaced by Joel Peralta in the eighth and Nate McLouth -- who reached base for a third time -- worked a two-out walk to give the O's their first baserunner since Ryan Flaherty's two-out double in the fifth. But Machado couldn't come through this time, popping up in the infield.

"You let a young guy [like Archer] get his feet on the ground and get his confidence going," Showalter said. "He knows if they can get to a certain inning with their bullpen ... You had two good teams that played a close game and pitched well on both sides and there was a fine margin for error. Not a whole lot there to critique where I'm concerned. They pitched just a tad better and made one or two less mistakes."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli.
Read More: Baltimore Orioles, Jason Hammel, Manny Machado