BALTIMORE -- With all the talk about the two clubs in this year's Beltways Series being evenly matched -- look no further than Washington and Baltimore's respective records -- the strengths and weaknesses of each are markedly different.
At least until Wednesday night. A Nats lineup that entered the day 10th in the National League in homers overpowered the O's at Camden Yards as Washington finished with its first three-homer game since May 31. The Orioles, who entered the day second in the Majors in homers, got a solo blast from red-hot Manny Machado, but it wasn't enough in the 6-2 loss that evened the abbreviated three-game series.
"They're a really good team, and they were really on tonight," catcher Caleb Joseph said after the loss, which kept the O's from building on their 2 1/2 game lead in the American League East. "They were swinging the bats well tonight. We're going to see [Nationals starter Doug Fister] again, hopefully, and we'll try to put together a better game."
O's righty Bud Norris left plenty of room for improvement in Wednesday's start, as he shook off some of the rust in his first game since coming off the disabled list. The righty went a season-low four-plus innings and tied a season high with five runs allowed as he never seemed to get into a rhythm.
"I felt pretty good [physically]," said Norris, who had been sidelined with a right groin strain. "Got a little achy there at the end, but I'm happy with the results and it's kind of out of my head now and I can keep going from there. I'll get a couple more bullpens in and just go from there and into the break and feel good going into the second half."
Norris surrendered six hits, including a pair of homers, and walked one in the 71-pitch outing that ended after a leadoff walk to Danny Espinosa and a single to Denard Span in the fifth. It was a sharp contrast to the fine form he's had for most of the season, as Norris had allowed just two earned runs over his previous three games and has been arguably the team's best starter in the first half of the season.
"Just kept waiting for him to kind of fall into a rhythm, but he never really seemed to get real comfortable. That will come," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Norris, who could pitch again on short rest given Wednesday's brief outing. "That's why I was hoping to get him two starts before the break. I was hoping to get him somewhere between 80 and 90 [pitches], but Washington wouldn't cooperate. We'll see what Sunday brings."
After allowing a pair of runs in the first, Norris gave up a one-out solo shot to Wilson Ramos in the second and Ian Desmond took him deep two outs into the fourth. Norris, who threw a two-inning simulated game at Fenway Park on Saturday, had just one clean inning against the Nationals and said he wanted to see how he felt on Thursday before looking to a possible Sunday start.
"It definitely was a little bit different [with the layoff], but I just wanted to go out there and really try and get it off my head," Norris said. "And I felt pretty good, so I just wanted to go out there and compete. That's a good team over there."
Particularly when it comes to pitching. Fister held the Orioles to just two runs over seven innings for his fourth consecutive quality outing, lowering his ERA to 2.90 with the win.
"Any time you have that height and you're able to create that plane and sink the ball, it's real simple, the ball's coming down at that angle and you're trying to swing on a flat level. That's why tall pitchers are in demand," Showalter said of Fister's dominance. "We didn't get many balls in the air off him. Manny hit a changeup. We didn't string much together."
The Os worked a pair of walks off Fister -- a rare occurrence -- in the first inning but were only able to score once, on Chris Davis' RBI single. Machado's fourth-inning homer was the only other tally.
Davis and Machado hit a pair of singles in the sixth, but they were erased when Joseph hit into an inning-ending double play, which third baseman Anthony Rendon made a nice play on.
"You'd hope to think that creates some momentum, you never know," Joseph said of what could have happened if his ball got through the infield. "We always feel we're in striking distance because we hit so many home runs and we get guys who get on base. Maybe if that gets by, maybe we'll turn the lineup over and we get to the top of the order. [Rendon has] been pretty good over there. He's a pretty good player. They're trying to get him to the All-Star Game. He's a pretty good player, and he made a good play on that. I'd hope that starts a big momentum [shift], but you never know."
Machado, who went 3-for-4, is batting .312 (39-125) with eight doubles, seven homers and 15 RBIs since June 1.
"Just trying to finally get into my groove," said Machado, whose sixth-inning single was the O's final hit. "[It's] just about being patient and seeing the ball. Everything is finally falling in place. Finding some holes, which is a big part, and just trying to keep this going."
Brad Brach, who entered after Norris, did his best to keep the damage minimal with a pair of runners aboard in the fifth and allowed only a sacrifice fly. After a scoreless sixth inning, Brach surrendered a two-out homer to Jayson Werth and exited for lefty Brian Matusz. Matusz retired Adam LaRoche to close out the frame and went 2 1/3 perfect innings to close the game out.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.