Leicester solid, but O's come up empty
Righty tosses eight innings in shutout loss to Rangers
ARLINGTON -- The Orioles ended their road schedule Sunday pretty much the way they started it all the way back in April -- by dropping a winnable game. Baltimore got eight innings from Jon Leicester in its road finale, but got shut out for the fourth time this month in a 3-0 loss to Texas. The Orioles finished their road slate with a 34-47 record.
Baltimore's first road game was a 7-4 loss on Opening Day, but that offense was nowhere to be found on Sunday. The Orioles hit into two rally-killing double plays in the first five innings and stranded two runners on base twice. Baltimore (66-89) went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position against the Rangers, who were more opportunistic with their own chances.
"Today wasn't as tough as the whole last month has been," said designated hitter Aubrey Huff, who went 0-for-4 with four groundouts. "I guess we're just going to have to go back home and play as hard as we can the next seven games and hopefully finish strong and then regroup next season."
Texas (72-84) got on the board in the second, using a two-out triple by Nelson Cruz to take the game's first lead. Gerald Laird knocked in Cruz with an infield single to make it 2-0, and that was more than enough for Kevin Millwood. Millwood (10-12) worked seven shutout innings and handed a three-run advantage to the home team's bullpen.
Baltimore's best scoring chance may have come in the eighth, when it pushed runners to second-and-third with two outs. Joaquin Benoit coaxed a rally-killing ground ball from Huff in that spot, and C.J. Wilson closed down the ninth. Brian Roberts had a pinch-hit single in the ninth, but Melvin Mora grounded into a game-ending double play.
The Orioles also hit into a key double play in the first, bailing Millwood out of a potentially difficult spot.
"If we wouldve gotten on the board in the first inning, it may have been a different game," said manager Dave Trembley. "I don't think people are tired. We pitched well enough to win. We didn't get the hits. Timing in the game is everything."
Leicester knows a little bit about timing, having come along right when Baltimore's pitching staff was on the verge of imploding. The right-hander stepped into the rotation right after Erik Bedard and Jeremy Guthrie stepped out due to injury, and he's won two of his four starts. None of his efforts were more impressive than Sunday, though, when he worked deep in the game.
The Rangers only got two extra-base hits, and one was a triple into the right-field corner that rattled around behind Nick Markakis. Texas scored one run on that play and another a few pitches later, when Leicester was late covering first base on an infield grounder. The Rangers didn't score again until the sixth, and they hung on the rest of the way.
"I tried to keep the ball down," said Leicester. "I wasn't always successful, but I wanted to attack the strike zone and use [my] defense. It was pretty good. I kept my pitch count down. It was a lot easier, because it was hot out there. You just try to get those early ground balls and fly balls, and I think when I did strike someone out, it was a few pitches."
"Jon has put in a lot of time in between starts working in the bullpen and looking at video," added Trembley. "His windup was a lot smoother today and his release was a lot more consistent than what I saw in New York. He attacked the hitters and didn't pitch away from the bats. When he does that, he's going to have some success."
Leicester (2-3) may not be a consideration for next year's rotation, but his run of success has put him right in the mix for a bullpen slot out of Spring Training. Trembley, who has known Leicester since their common tenure in the Minor Leagues, said he thinks there may be a defined spot for him in next year's pitching staff.
"I always thought he was going to be either a fifth starter or a guy in the middle, because he could command the fastball even when he was in [Class A] -- and he had movement," Trembley said. "I kind of like him as a four- or five-out guy against right-handed hitters in the sixth or seventh inning. He can swing, because he's been stretched out enough where he can be a spot starter. He's kind of like a right-handed version of what [Brian] Burres is for us."
Now that the road trip's over, the Orioles will head east for their final homestand. Baltimore will play a makeup game against Kansas City followed by series against Toronto and New York.
"With all the football games on TV, everybody knows that [the end is near]," said Trembley of the season's endgame. "You come to Texas and the front page is football, not baseball. That ought to tell you what's going on."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.