The Orioles signed Steve Trachsel in the hope that he could help mold their younger starters, a gambit that's at least partly contingent on the veteran continuing to pitch well. Trachsel hasn't been able to hold up that latter half of the equation in his last few starts, and he may have jeopardized his rotation slot Sunday in the O's 6-5 loss to the Angels.
Trachsel allowed six runs Sunday, all scoring on home runs. He also wasn't able to make it out of the fourth inning for the third time in his last four starts, a span that has seen him pick up three losses and log an 11.05 ERA. Baltimore's starters had gone at least six innings in six straight starts, making Trachsel's brief outing seem even shorter.
"What it's done is that it's hurt our bullpen," said manager Dave Trembley. "Thankfully, a guy like [Lance] Cormier came in today and put up zeros. He minimized it for us. But that's one of the reasons why we've carried 13 pitchers. We're trying to cover for people and we had to do it again today."
Baltimore's offense helped cover for Trachsel's short start, but a few mistakes doomed the road team to fall short. Veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez hit a ball off the left-field wall in the first inning, but he went into a home-run trot and was thrown out easily at second. Leadoff man Brian Roberts was caught stealing third in the first inning and picked off first in the ninth.
"Mistakes were made," said Trembley. "It's part of our game to run. We're going to do that. I'm not so sure about the play at third. I haven't seen it yet. [If] they called him out, he's out. But it's part of our game to steal third base with one out. I've got no problem with that. The catcher made a good play."
At one point, Trembley was asked directly whether Trachsel would make his next rotation turn, but he declined to issue a vote of confidence for the veteran and said only that he had to consult with pitching coach Rick Kranitz. The Orioles are already down one starter due to an injury to southpaw Adam Loewen, so Trachsel's assignment won't be taken lightly.
"You're talking about a guy who's done it for 14 years," Hernandez said. "You're not talking about a guy who just came up this year to be in the big leagues. He's been through this before -- a lot of times. As a player, when you play long, you're always going to get tough parts of your career. ... I think he'll figure it out and be able to come out of this."
The Angels (20-13) started their onslaught immediately on Sunday, answering a Baltimore rally with four runs in the bottom of the first inning. Designated hitter Gary Matthews Jr. led off with a homer to straightaway center field, and center fielder Torii Hunter gave Los Angeles a lead it would never relinquish with a three-run blast over the left-field fence.
"He's just leaving the ball up," said Hernandez, who had two hits. "He's just missing his spots. It's the same stuff. He knows he's not going to blow it by anybody, but he just has to keep the ball down and change speeds. That's his game. Now he's missing pitches up and in the middle of the plate, and you're going to get hurt when you do that."
"I was even getting beat when I was ahead," said Trachsel of his location. "I'm just kind of really frustrated. ... I think I had some pretty decent stuff today. The guys got me a quick two-run lead, which going against [Angels 6-0 starter Joe Saunders] is pretty nice. I just squandered it. I'm not real happy. I don't know what else to say. I just haven't been getting the job done lately."
Trachsel (1-4) stayed in the game long enough to allow a two-run blast to third baseman Robb Quinlan in the third inning. The Orioles (17-14) responded with solo home runs from Melvin Mora in the third inning and Nick Markakis in the seventh. They also got three singles to score a run in the fifth inning off Saunders, who left as the pitcher of record.
"We didn't have good shutdown innings," said first baseman Kevin Millar, who had two hits and two RBIs. "We scored two, they scored four. We scored one, they scored two. You've got to have a shutdown inning and we didn't today, so we lost. We kept fighting, we kept battling and we had some mistakes on the bases, but it was what it was. We lost, 6-5."
Baltimore had Saunders on the ropes in the first inning, but Hernandez's baserunning mistake helped kill the momentum. The Orioles wound up setting a new season high with 15 hits in the loss.
The road team's bullpen fired six shutout innings, paced by three from Cormier. Dennis Sarfate and Jim Johnson threw scoreless innings of their own, but the Orioles refused to play the game of what-if.
"You can't look back, man," said Hernandez. "I left a guy on third base, but you can't look back on what happened in that inning. What happens if the next guy made an out? It's the same. You have to get a hit to get two more runs.
"You just can't look back at that. You have to take it inning-by-inning. We just came up short and that stuff that happened, just happened. All you can try to do is watch the ball a little longer and just keep running."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.