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OAK@BAL: Markakis' solo shot puts O's on the board

BALTIMORE -- With Tuesday's Trade Deadline looming, the Orioles' biggest needs were on full display Saturday night.

The home-run ball that has followed Orioles starter Tommy Hunter all season haunted the 26-year-old again, as he served up a pair of two-run shots to become the third starter in four games to fail to complete six innings. The ineffective outing, coupled with a Baltimore lineup that has struggled to produce with runners in scoring position, paved the way for a 6-1 loss to the Oakland A's in front of 21,143 at Camden Yards.

"It's a tough stretch right now, because it's the second half and every game is important," center fielder Adam Jones said of an Orioles club that has lost five of six. "Which is legit. To be able to get to play, this time of the year, all the games are important. I think we just need to relish the opportunity and relax at the plate, on the field, and the mound."

The loss comes at a critical juncture for a club still in the Wild Card race, but struggling to keep pace with a surprisingly strong first half. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette reiterated Friday that the club has several conversations going in hopes of upgrading the starting rotation and perhaps adding a bat.

But there were no reinforcements Saturday night and Hunter -- who turned in a pair of quality outings after being recalled at the beginning of the month -- couldn't get the rotation back on track. The right-hander -- who has allowed home runs in 10 consecutive appearances -- was unable to limit the long-ball damage that accounted for four of his five runs allowed. Both Yoenis Cespedes and Chris Carter went deep for a two-run shot to chase Hunter from the game after 5 1/3 innings, marking his shortest start since May 28.

"I didn't make many mistakes at all, actually," Hunter said of his performance. "It [stinks] to say you felt good out there and turn around and you see five runs on the board and once again you've got a loss next to your name, but that's baseball.

"Trust me, I'm not changing anything about what I did tonight. I really wouldn't. They got me and they got me on two pretty good pitches. I'd probably throw them again. But now knowing their approaches, that's probably the only thing I'd change about it."

Saturday's outing was just the fourth time in 16 starts Hunter has gone less than six innings, with the pair of homers bringing his season total to 24, second-most in the American League. Asked if this type of outing that can be expected by Hunter, who has allowed homers in 16 of 18 appearances, manager Buck Showalter said he hopes not.

"It's hard to go out there and be perfect," Showalter said. "Tommy's pitched real well his last couple outings and he looked like he was going to do it again tonight but it got away from him a little bit. At 5-0 we were hoping to make a run there, but we really scattered our hits."

Hunter didn't get any help from his offense, as the Orioles left six on base in the first four innings, stranding 10 through seven. A's starter Bartolo Colon allowed eight baserunners in 5 2/3 innings, but didn't give up a run as the O's squandered numerous chances to score. The Orioles had runners on in five of his six innings, three of which they had multiple baserunners, but failed to get anything going.

The Orioles went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position Saturday, marking the eighth time in their last 19 games they haven't gotten a hit with runners in scoring position. They've been held to just one hit in five additional games.

"It's apparent by how many runs we scored," Jones said of the team's struggles with timely hitting, a stretch of 38 games in which the team is batting .164 with runners in scoring position. "We hit [Colon]. I had a couple opportunities before and didn't succeed. But we put ourselves in the situation. I know I've said that before. It [stinks]. But when you put yourself in the best position to succeed, that's really all you ask. It's coming."

Nick Markakis prevented a shutout with a solo homer with one out in the ninth inning, and the Orioles will turn to lefty Wei-Yin Chen to try to avoid their first three-game home series sweep since April 9-11 versus the Yankees.

"They're trying," Showalter said of his club's struggles. "It's just not happening. I see them trying, firsthand. It's not for lack of effort or lack of attention to what's causing it. It's just been tough for us to carry it over into the game.

I'm just hoping in the next few days we get some people back. Hopefully Jimmy [Thome] and Matty [Wieters] will be healthy at some point soon and Robert [Andino] and Brian [Roberts] will join us. We'll get some good news around the corner."

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