Saunders struggles in debut as O's fall to White Sox

Saunders struggles in debut as O's fall to White Sox

Saunders struggles in debut as O's fall to White Sox
BALTIMORE -- When Joe Saunders was growing up, his family would make the short drive over from the Falls Church, Va., area to take in games at Camden Yards. There, in the upper-deck seats, Saunders would root for the O's and dream of someday getting to pitch for a club like Baltimore.

Wednesday night was not the homecoming Saunders envisioned. Instead, the 31-year-old allowed four first-inning runs and failed to last six innings in a disappointing start that paved the way for the Orioles' 8-1 loss to the White Sox.

The defeat snapped Baltimore's four-game win streak and cost the O's a chance to gain ground on the American League East-leading Yankees, who maintained 3 1/2-game edge despite losing earlier in the day.

"I was making good pitches," Saunders said. "I kind of looked back at [catcher Matt Wieters] and said, 'What's going on here?' I had a little adrenaline going there, but I just told myself before the game, 'Try to be yourself and don't try to do too much in your first game.'"

But Saunders struggled to do that, and his first start in nine days was one the left-hander would rather forget. Pitching for the first time since being acquired in Sunday's trade with the D-backs, Saunders allowed a pair of one-out runs courtesy of Alex Rios' double and Alexei Ramirez singled in another pair to put the O's in an immediate 4-0 deficit.

"He'll be better," manager Buck Showalter said of Saunders, who has pitched to a 12.00 ERA in his last three starts. "[I] thought second, third and fourth, you can see what he's capable of. His work day, get back in rhythm and schedule, and you'll get to see him be better.

"I'll certainly give him that respect of a guy who's had success."

Saunders settled in following the 31-pitch first with scoreless second and third innings, getting a pair of double-play balls to keep Chicago off the board.

Chicago's No. 9 batter, Gordon Beckham, hit a two-out double to drive in an unearned run in the fourth and Saunders exited one out into the sixth inning with runners on second and third after allowing a pair of singles.

"He's had a whirlwind probably two or three days, so it happens," Beckham said of Saunders' struggles. "He just left some pitches over the plate. That's usually what happens. When you leave pitches over the plate and the other team's swinging the bat well, they make you pay.

"But he's a good pitcher. We've faced him before and he's looked really good against us in the past, so I expect him to be pretty good."

Reliever Kevin Gregg entered in the sixth and served up Beckham's third hit of the night, tagging Saunders with another pair of runs to run his final line to seven (six earned) on 10 hits with a pair of walks.

"It's not easy," added Orioles designated hitter Chris Davis, who was acquired in a midseason move last year. "They say it takes a couple of weeks to settle in when you're traded. We know he's better than that."

But the Orioles' loss, just their fourth in the past 16 games, wasn't solely on Saunders' shoulders. The offense had no answer for Dylan Axelrod, who pitched 7 1/3 strong innings, then was optioned to Double-A Birmingham following the game.

The O's best shot for a big inning came when they put runners on first and second with no outs in the fourth, but could only muster one run. Axelrod, recalled from Triple-A Charlotte to make the start in place of Jake Peavy -- who was pushed back to Friday -- cruised through the Orioles lineup, allowing only three hits in a performance that granted the AL Central-leading White Sox their first road win in six games.

"Any time you can command two breaking balls and have that type of confidence in them, you're going to have a chance," Showalter said of Axelrod, "Especially when you've got a little lead to work with where you can create some aggressiveness in hitters.

"You've really got to be patient with him, because you're going to see a steady dose of different breaking balls. Everybody knew it coming in, but getting behind like that certainly didn't help matters."

Following Wieters' double and Davis' hit-by-pitch in the fourth, Axelrod retired 13 consecutive batters before issuing a walk to J.J. Hardy -- his final batter -- one out into the eighth.

"He was really tough," Davis said of Axelrod, who allowed Omar Quintanilla's fourth-inning sacrifice fly for the lone run. "He could have very easily given it up, but he buckled down and really battled us the whole game."

Gregg, who issued three walks over a four-out outing, allowed another run score in the seventh before being replaced by Luis Ayala, who picked up two strikeouts over 1 1/3 innings. Steve Johnson pitched a 1-2-3 ninth.

"You always want to set a good impression your first time," Saunders said. "It [stinks] that that first inning was the first inning. But you've got to turn the page quick and look forward to the next start."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.