Hill gives Orioles little in defeat

Hill gives Orioles little in defeat

NEW YORK -- Start by start, Rich Hill's rope keeps getting shorter. And this time, he knows it.

The Baltimore southpaw struggled to get deep in the game again Tuesday, calling his rotation slot into renewed jeopardy. Hill, who five times in 12 starts has been removed before completing five innings, left early in a 6-4 loss to the Yankees. Afterward, the pitcher addressed his near future in the frankest terms possible.

"I've been given a great opportunity here in Baltimore and I think that times are maybe getting a little bit slim here," said Hill of his status going forward. "The writing is on the wall. It's not very difficult to see when you're going out there and not putting up good numbers with an ERA close to 8.00 or probably at 8.00. It's not fun for me, either, to go out there and pitch like that. I know I'm a better pitcher than what I've been showing."

The Orioles went into the All-Star break pondering Hill's role but ultimately opted to leave him in the rotation. And now, 12 starts into his season, they have several objective means to rate his progress. Hill got off to a late jump but has yet to post an ERA under 6.00 for any month and has won just once in his past eight starts.

And if you ask manager Dave Trembley, the Orioles are clearly running out of reasons to keep starting Hill.

"I would say he's had a tremendous opportunity here and has been extended every measure of patience by all of us," said Trembley, who declined to say whether Hill would make another start. "I wish it were better, to be honest with you. I have to look at the situation for what it is and see what we can do to make it better."

Hill, who has allowed five earned runs or more five times this season, showed more of the same form on Tuesday. The left-hander walked four batters in three-plus innings, and three of the walked batters came around to score. Hill (3-3) stranded two runners on base in the third inning but departed after a Robinson Cano homer in the fourth.

But it was the walks -- two of which came to open an inning -- that really haunted Hill after the game. On Tuesday, the former fourth-round draftee lived mostly with his curveball, a pitch that leaves him little or no fallback plan. Hill, who often struggles with his fastball, said the trend is starting to become distressing.

"You get in a situation where, yeah, it's kind of a comfort thing," Hill said. "I have to get away from that and remind myself that the curveball is going to be more effective with the more fastballs that you throw. Again, a terrible performance from my half. We would have come out on top, I believe, if I had pitched better."

"I saw a lot of pitches that were below average," added Trembley. "We thought coming back from the break and [with] some time off that he would pitch better and he would pitch down with his fastball, that there would be a lot more life on his pitches. I know this is a tough place to pitch and to play -- and I know that they have a very good lineup -- but I just think in order to be successful, you've got to be somewhat more aggressive. You've got to pitch with your best stuff to each hitter all the time. Each pitch is important. You can't walk people. It didn't happen."

New York (56-37) made the early offense stand up despite an on-and-off performance from Sergio Mitre. The Orioles (41-52) scored twice in the early going and made it a 6-4 game on a two-run single by Melvin Mora in the sixth inning. The Yankees owned the endgame, though, and went on to their sixth straight win over Baltimore.

The Orioles have now outhit their opponents in all five games since the All-Star break but are 1-4 under those circumstances. For the season, Baltimore is 31-10 when it outhits its opponents.

"We'll take the fact that we're in all these games and we're playing very good teams," said Brian Roberts, the team's second-longest-tenured player. "The difference right now is the fact that maybe they are just a little bit better. That's why they're at the top of their division and we're not this very second. I think that we can all look at it as hopefully a stepping stone in the right direction that we're playing very good games against good teams."

Hill, who was acquired for a conditional player to be named later just before Spring Training, has completed seven innings on just one occasion this season. He ran up a high pitch count again Tuesday, and the Yankees reached him for a sacrifice fly in the first inning and a two-run single from Alex Rodriguez in the third.

The Orioles have begun to see the logic in promoting top pitching prospect Chris Tillman, a contingency option to take either Hill or rookie Jason Berken's rotation slot. They'd still be one arm short, though, if they choose to replace both starters. For now, the Orioles are continuing to rally around Hill and his chances to rebound.

"It's tough to watch any teammate struggle," said Roberts. "Rich is a great guy. He's fun to be around. He has fun. He's got a great personality, and he's got great stuff. [Mark] Teixeira got on second base and said, 'Jeez, this guy has really good stuff, if he just could harness it a little bit.' It's a work in progress. We've all been there. It's just a matter of continuing to get him some confidence and some innings, and hopefully that will click in."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.