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BAL@TB: Hardy's strong throw nabs Pena at the plate

ST. PETERSBURG -- A bump in the road? The backsliding Orioles can only hope so.

A Baltimore club that stunned the baseball world over the first seven weeks of the season is now struggling in nearly every facet of the game, with the scuffling starting pitching on full display -- this time it was Wei-Yin Chen -- in a five-run first inning that led to Friday's 5-0 loss to Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field.

The Orioles, who haven't had an extra-base hit since the ninth inning of Tuesday's game, took their first shutout loss of the season, extended their losing streak to six games and fell out of first place in the American League East for the first time since May 5.

"We can't let it snowball," center fielder Adam Jones said of the team's skid, during which team has just 14 runs and a .228 batting average. "We, as in all 25, we need to play better. And that's pretty simple."

Orioles starters have a 7.11 ERA during the losing streak, a number that balloons to 8.06 when singling out the last turn of the five-man rotation, a struggling group that saw Tommy Hunter optioned to Triple-A Norfolk earlier in the week. The Orioles are now winless in four games to start their three-city, nine-game road trip -- with stops in three divisional cities -- and have lost nine of their last 11.

Asked if his club, which has been decimated by injuries, was showing signs of frustration, manager Buck Showalter said, "They've got a lot of confidence. They're a mature group. They understand. We'll get it going again.

"We're going to have to start doing some things that we've been doing to get to this point and be competitive," he added. "We've just got to get off a little bit better with our start, pitching-wise. But it's all phases."

But this current phase hasn't been pretty. Chen, who has been a pleasant surprise in his rookie season, became the latest starter to struggle, allowing five first-inning runs. Two of those came on a single by former Oriole Luke Scott, then Hideki Matsui -- playing in just his third game of the season -- went deep for a two-run homer, prompting Showalter to order bullpen activity just 16 pitches into the game.

"It's a dark time for our team, and I really wanted to help them to win today," Chen, who exited after 5 2/3 innings, said through his interpreter. "But the first inning I couldn't command my fastball, and my offspeed pitches were out of the zone. I didn't do my job."

By the time the first inning was over, Chen had thrown 36 pitches and given a potent Tampa Bay pitching staff plenty with which to work.

Rays starter David Price cruised, picking up his seventh win of the season. The 26-year-old held the Orioles without a baserunner until Matt Wieters singled with one out in the fifth, and he exited after 7 1/3 scoreless innings to rousing applause.

"He's one of the best pitchers in the game, but that's their strength," Showalter said of the enviably deep Rays staff. "They're capable of running six or seven guys out there every fifth day, and you know you have to match them pitching-wise, and we just didn't get off to a good start there. They were due. They did a lot of good things execution-wise in the first inning."

The Orioles squandered a chance to get on the board after loading the bases against Price in the sixth. Bill Hall and Robert Andino worked a pair of one-out walks, and Steve Tolleson singled to load the bases for J.J. Hardy. Hardy, hitting in the No. 3 spot with Nick Markakis injured, hit a long would-be sacrifice fly, but Tolleson was caught trying to tag at second base to end the frame.

"I just saw where [center fielder B.J. Upton] was in the outfield, and thought I could make it," Tolleson said. "It was a bad play. I was a little bit too aggressive there in a situation where I really didn't need to be aggressive."

It was the closest the Orioles would come to scoring off Price, who allowed four hits and two walks in an impressive 113-pitch performance.

Chen rebounded impressively, retiring 14 of 16 batters, including 10 in a row, before exiting two outs into the sixth. But the early damage was enough, as the Orioles again fell into a hole from which they couldn't climb out.

"We got on him," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Chen. "I think what Carlos [Pena] did to lead off the game [with a double] mattered. I think that put him on his heels a little bit, and then he recovered. But ... we had five runs."

And the Orioles had the all-too-familiar feel of a loss, having dropped five consecutive road games after winning nine straight away from Camden Yards from May 1-19.

"It's frustrating, but we've got a good team here," Jones said. "I'm not going to jump on [anybody]. We win and lose as a group, and right now we are not playing the best baseball, and we need a kick in the pants right now to turn it around. Because this division is not going to let up, and we have to be the same way."

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