Baltimore elected to protect Brian Matusz from a heavy workload Monday, and then the team's decision-makers watched as David Hernandez continued to go down the wrong path. Hernandez was hit hard and knocked out early for the fifth time in his past nine outings, sinking the Orioles to an 8-4 loss to the Rays.
Hernandez, who's two years older than Matusz, passed his own career-high innings total (145 1/3) on Monday, but his prior experience helps makes that a non-issue. Still, the recent results inspire concern: Hernandez (4-8) has allowed 19 home runs in his past nine starts, racking up a 1-6 record and a 7.86 ERA over that span.
"It's easy right now to lose confidence, but you just know that you've got to work harder in between starts," said Hernandez. "I have three starts left and there's still time to finish the season off on a good note."
Hernandez insisted that he feels fine, and manager Dave Trembley said that he doesn't seem to have hit a rookie wall. Hernandez still has his best stuff, and the Orioles want him to pitch through the end of the season.
"Matusz is the exception because he's never played," said Trembley. "But the goal is to prepare the guys to pitch and play into October. It's not Labor Day. Labor Day season ends the Minor Leagues. You don't prepare people for that. And you don't come to Spring Training with the mind-set that you're only going to play until 162. You've got to come prepare mentally and physically and attitude-wise ... that you're going to go the whole way."
Tampa Bay (73-71) took a one-run lead in the first inning Monday and then watched as the Orioles (58-85) assumed temporary control. Nick Markakis drew a two-out walk to start the rally, and then Baltimore netted four straight singles. All-Star Evan Longoria made a throwing error on the last hit to push another runner home.
Hernandez gave that lead right back, though, as he served up a two-run home run to shortstop Reid Brignac and then back-to-back doubles to Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford. B.J. Upton put the Rays ahead for good with a solo home run off Hernandez in the fourth, and the Rays pushed further ahead with three runs in the fifth.
"I guess it was kind of a mental letdown," said Hernandez of the crucial second inning. "I got two quick outs and then I fall behind and give up a couple hits, and Reid put on a good swing and hit it out."
"I see a lot of two strikes and not being able to put people away, and when I say put people away, I'm not talking about striking them out -- I'm talking about getting them out," added Trembley of his starter's effort. "Right from the get-go, you're saying, 'Oh my, maybe we're walking on thin ice to begin with.' And I counted eight out of nine guys, you get two strikes on them, you get two quick outs. You've got Upton up and he gets a hit.
"Then you throw a changeup first pitch, and then you throw a fastball that's located and the guy hits it out of the ballpark. I don't know. Maybe he's second-guessing himself as far as pitch selection is concerned."
Meanwhile, opposing starter David Price had the opposite kind of night. The southpaw got stronger as the night progressed and retired 17 of the final 20 batters he faced. Price (8-7) held the Orioles down in the middle innings, allowing the Rays to get enough offense to snap their season-high 11-game losing streak.
"I was just trying to keep us where we were at, and the offense did a great job tonight and fought back," said Price, the top overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. "They got one for me early then I gave up four and they got three in the second. Kind of gives me a re-do and that's part of it, and it was very appreciated by me, obviously."
Brian Bass took the ball from Hernandez in the fourth and quickly escaped on a pair of strikeouts and a fly ball. The right-hander got a strikeout to start the fifth, but then he walked two straight batters. Akinori Iwamura compounded things by stroking a single though shortstop, and the Orioles made two errors on the play.
Left fielder Nolan Reimold made the first one by throwing wildly toward home, then Bass picked it up and threw it past third base. After the game, Trembley said he removed Bass for both his pitching and his fielding.
"He was dead -- he was four steps off second base," said Bass. "I picked up the ball, I looked up, saw two guys that froze and tried to stop. I just didn't throw the ball where I wanted to throw it. It was either a dead out or we get him in a rundown. Obviously, hindsight says eat the ball and it's first-and-third if you don't have a play."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.