It is early, but Baltimore's rotation has taxed the team's bullpen nearly every night, with 25-year-old Chris Tillman becoming the latest pitcher to have an abbreviated outing of five innings. The disappointing start, which comes on the heels of Jake Arrieta's five frames, paved the way for the Orioles' 6-2 series-evening loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in front of 13,591 at Camden Yards.
"That's big," catcher Matt Wieters said of getting the starting rotation, which has yet to have a full seven-inning outing, on track. "That's how you want to win. You want to win with your starting pitching, and we have the starting pitching in place. We just got to get deeper in games."
The Orioles (7-7) have had their starters go fewer than six full innings in half of their games and just three times have their starters been able to stay long enough to record an out in the seventh. The team's bullpen, which has been outstanding for the most part, has pitched 44 innings and is all too often taking over with a dozen outs remaining.
"We need to start giving our bullpen a break," said Tillman (0-1), who has not gone longer than 5 1/3 innings in three games. "That, I'll speak for myself, [I need to] get deeper in these ballgames. Get outs earlier in the count. This bullpen, guys have been picking us up big time. It's our turn to kind of [take] the ball and get things going."
Tillman's 93-pitch performance, in which he was charged with four earned runs on six hits and two walks, paled in comparison with Rays lefty Matt Moore, who went 6 2/3 impressive innings and allowed just two runs on Adam Jones' homer.
"I was able to get ahead," said Moore, who improved to 3-0 after his 104-pitch outing. "That just set up my other pitches, too. It allowed me to miss over the plate a little bit. They're obviously a very good hitting team, and very aggressive, so it was very important to get that first pitch over for a strike."
Jones jumped on Moore's first pitch with two outs in the third, tagging the lefty with his first runs allowed this season on a video replay reversal. Down two, Jones' blast into the Orioles' bullpen -- that hit the top of the pole -- was initially ruled an RBI double, but Showalter came out to contest the call, and it was overturned following video review.
Jones was also at the center of a play in the fourth that led to a two-run frame off Tillman. With one out and runners on second and third, Jones charged James Loney's liner only to have it drop in and bounce by him.
"He's coming in there, trying to make the catch and saw at the last second he wasn't going to be able to do it, and he got a short hop there," Showalter said of the play, which scored both Evan Longoria and Shelley Duncan. "I applaud he was trying to make a play for us, and just got caught in between there in no man's land. He was hoping to take it off the chest and just didn't get the bounce he was looking for."
"I can't be mad at myself; I went after it aggressive," Jones said. "It wasn't hit as hard as I thought, and the ball didn't get to me. I tried to keep it in front of me, but didn't."
Tillman failed to get out in front of the Rays' hitters, frequently working from behind in the count and surrendering two early homers as a result. He became the second consecutive starter to surrender a first-inning homer to a Rays club off to the slowest offensive start in team history, with Kelly Johnson taking him deep. Duncan followed with another blast in the second, and after a walk to Loney and a balk, Tillman -- who had bullpen activity in the fourth -- briefly got back on track to retire the next five straight.
"I think Tilly was something like six out of 22 first-pitch strikes," Showalter said. "He's a guy who can throw some multiple looks at you, but when you're constantly behind in the count, it's tough."
The Rays patiently waited Tillman out, working him up to a high pitch count early and tallying six hits with two walks.
"A big thing is we haven't established well enough that we are going to get that first-pitch strike and a quality strike," Wieters said following an outing in which Tillman threw 52 of 93 pitches for strikes. "You got to get pitches close to the strike zone."
Moore, who struck out Wieters following Jones' homer, fanned seven and never let the O's back in the game. He scattered five hits, four of which were singles, to go along with three walks before exiting in favor of Jake McGee. The pitching change was made by bench coach Dave Martinez, as Rays manager Joe Maddon was ejected for arguing a caught-stealing call on Johnson in the fifth.
Orioles lefty T.J. McFarland, who replaced Tillman, allowed the first run of his Major League career with No. 9 batter Yunel Escobar's two-out single in the sixth. McFarland, who entered the game with 5 1/3 scoreless innings in two appearances, was charged with another run in the eighth to push the Rays' lead to four.