Mark Hendrickson inspired more questions than answers Tuesday night, stepping wrong at a time when his rotation slot could be in jeopardy. Baltimore's starter worked two innings and allowed five runs, but the Orioles bailed him out and rode two home runs from Adam Jones to take a 7-5 win over the Rays.
"I don't worry about that stuff," said Hendrickson. "That's for you guys to worry about, not me. I just move on and pitch. That's what I do, and I'm kind of more frustrated with the way I'm throwing the ball than what's going on outside the lines."
Hendrickson's status has been a hot-button issue because of the presence of Rich Hill, who has made major progress in a battle against a strained left elbow. Hill will be ready to return within a week or two, and the Orioles are debating whether they want to remove Hendrickson from the rotation.
The southpaw has given them plenty of ammunition on that score, and he hasn't made it deeper than five innings since his season debut. Hendrickson, who has allowed at least four earned runs in three of his past four outings, was blitzed Tuesday to the tune of six hits and five runs in two innings.
Afterwards, the veteran said that his stuff and his mechanics felt just fine.
"Actually, I felt really good. I just didn't finish the hitters," Hendrickson said. "It's frustrating not to throw the ball where I want to, or to throw it early in the count where I wanted to. Ultimately, it's just executing pitches better. That's probably the most frustrating part, because I am better than that. Right now, it's just not happening."
That may have been obvious on Tuesday, but it still took a difficult decision from manager Dave Trembley to remove him from the game. Baltimore (14-19) had to cover seven innings with its bullpen, but Trembley decided that Monday's off-day had left his relief staff in good enough shape to work overtime.
"It wasn't a night for both starting pitchers," said Trembley. "Both starting pitchers weren't at the top of their game, and we had to do what we did in order to try to win the game."
And the quick hook worked, as Brian Bass worked four scoreless innings to get the Orioles deep in the game. After that, Baltimore went to Danys Baez, Jim Johnson and George Sherrill to lock down the late innings.
"We had a day off yesterday, and we had some guys rested," said Trembley. "But to be honest with you, I'm not worried about hurting anybody's feelings. I'll do what I've got to do to help win the game. And that's not a slight on Hendrickson. He's a real pro. But I told [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] that when it was 5-1, if we cut it to 5-3, I was going to go to Bass, and we did and that was the right thing to do for the team."
Baltimore took the first lead, courtesy of Jones' solo homer in the first inning, but the game got real choppy in the second. Tampa Bay (15-19) scored five runs in the top of the second to take an early lead, but Baltimore answered back against Andy Sonnanstine with five runs in the bottom half of the inning.
Jones had the big hit in that rally, a three-run shot to left field off Sonnanstine (1-4) that gave him the first multihomer game of his career. The fleet-footed center fielder later made an error and redeemed himself with a running catch at the wall, and his home-run total (eight) is just two less than he had all of last year.
"He must be seeing the ball real good and he's going up there real relaxed," said Trembley. "He's not afraid to take pitches. Right now he's locked in. The ball's coming off his bat with a different sound."
"I have confidence every single day. The results, I'd just say, are on my side right now," added Jones. "I'm just not missing them as often. I'm putting them in play and I'm putting them in play with authority."
Bass (2-1) helped settle the game down immediately and faced one batter over the minimum through his first three innings. Then, in the sixth, he helped minimize Jones' error by escaping the inning on a double play. From there, Baez, Johnson and Sherrill combined to allow one hit over the last three innings.
"My goal, obviously knowing I'm going to have three innings, is just to go out there and be efficient with my pitches," Bass said. "[I tried to] force some contact early and tried to keep it on the ground."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.