TORONTO -- The Orioles were in need of a strong start after getting two short outings in consecutive defeats to the Blue Jays that kicked off a pivotal nine-game road trip against American League East rivals.
Jason Hammel, who has been the Orioles' best pitcher over the first two months of the season, took the ball looking to end the team's recent skid, but instead he was met with a similar fate at the expense of the Blue Jays' bats.
Hammel surrendered four home runs, Baltimore's offense was unable to solve Brandon Morrow, and the Orioles leave Toronto having lost five straight after falling to the Blue Jays, 4-1, on Wednesday.
"Balls were up in the zone, [there was an] open roof, [the] ball was flying a little bit," Hammel. "I made a few mistakes and they all left the yard, that's the bottom line. Very potent offense."
Hammel went on to suggest that the Blue Jays' hitters were getting some outside help because of the way they attacked his offspeed offerings.
"They were taking some pretty big hacks on my breaking stuff, too, which leads me to believe something else," said Hammel, who lost for the first time in May. "The swings they were taking on the breaking stuff was pretty amazing to me. I don't think you can take swings like that, not knowing they're coming. I don't know, that's all I can say. ... There's rumors and things like that, I don't know. I can't speak on that, but they were taking very, very strong hacks on breaking stuff. It's something I've never seen before."
The Blue Jays were accused last season of having someone from the outfield seats tip off pitches to the hitters. It was strongly denied, but it became enough of a story that general manager Alex Anthopoulos called a news conference to address the situation.
Hammel stopped short of accusing Toronto hitters of cheating, but his frustration was evident.
The right-hander was roughed up right from the start and couldn't hold the early one-run lead he was given off a Ryan Flaherty single in the second inning.
In the bottom half of the frame, Hammel served up his first mistake of the night, a 1-2 fastball to Edwin Encarnacion that he drove over the seats in left to tie the score at 1.
The next inning it was more of the same.
Rajai Davis led things off by drilling a 1-0 offering to left to put the Blue Jays in front, 2-1. Hammel got out of the rest of the inning unscathed, but Brett Lawrie continued the assault in the fourth, launching his fourth home run of the season to center that put Toronto ahead, 3-1.
The final blow came off the bat of Colby Rasmus, who launched his sixth homer of the season in the fifth for the game's final score.
Hammel entered the start allowing just 0.49 home runs per nine innings, but he allowed more home runs than he did in his previous nine starts combined. He lasted 6 2/3 innings, allowed a season-high nine hits and striking out five.
Manager Buck Showalter said that fastball command is what troubled Tommy Hunter and Jake Arrieta over the first two games of the series, and on Wednesday it was no different for Hammel. All four homers Hammel surrendered came off his two-seam fastball.
The Orioles have been playing their worst ball of the season, losing eight of their past 10, but despite being swept by the Blue Jays, they remain tied for first place in the American League East with the Rays.
"We're proud of them," Showalter said about his team. "We've played one-third of a six-month season. They will wake up tomorrow and see that they are tied for first place."
The key heading into a big weekend showdown with the Rays is all about pitching, according to Showalter.
"Be a little more consistent with our starting pitching," he said. "Obviously, [Tampa Bay has] a really good pitching staff. We'll take a day off and regroup and see where we are with some physical issues and go about the competition of a six-month season."
Baltimore had no answers for Morrow, who lasted 6 1/3 innings, allowing four hits while striking out eight. The right-hander improved to 6-3, but it almost came at a cost.
In the seventh, Wilson Betemit drilled a line drive off Morrow's shin, forcing him to leave the game. Morrow had to be helped off the field and is listed as day to day with a contused right shin.
"I came into the game with a little chip on my shoulder after last time," said Morrow, who was removed from his previous start in the first inning after surrendering six runs to the Rangers. "We knew this game was a big one, to sweep them and get back in the race. Now we're just two games [behind] them, and that was a big series for us."
Adam Jones' career-best hit streak was snapped at 20 games after going 0-for-3.
Chris Toman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.