Pitchers' health is focus in loss
Starter scratched, replacement leaves early as Orioles fall
CHICAGO -- The Orioles saw their pitching staff get thinned out in a hurry on Wednesday, suffering a double dose of adversity that impacted and overshadowed a 7-4 loss to the Cubs. First came the benign news that Brian Burres would miss his scheduled start with a stomach ailment. Then came a bout of shoulder discomfort for replacement Matt Albers.
Albers faced just five batters before his arm gave way, and he wound up being charged with four earned runs and the loss. The Orioles (39-37) weren't sure of his exact prognosis after the game and will send the right-hander back to Baltimore for further examination. One thing that's certain, though, is that his departure could throw the bullpen into disarray.
"He's going to get examined tomorrow by the doctor and we'll know more," said manager Dave Trembley. "It's just an unfortunate situation. We pretty much came up short with our pitching tonight. We battled hard, but didn't get it done."
Albers met the media and seemed somber, speaking his responses in a steady monotone. The right-hander said he initially hurt himself when throwing a breaking ball to the game's first batter and tried to pitch through it. He also said that he's never felt discomfort like this before and wouldn't clarify whether he felt a sharp pain or a tightness in the joint.
"Discomfort is probably the best word for it," he said, echoing the team's official report. "It's obviously something that I'm not real excited about but it's a part of baseball. So we'll get it checked out and go from there."
The Orioles have relied on Albers and Jim Johnson late in the game for much of the season, and Trembley has often worried about overusing the pair of former starters. Still, he had little choice on Wednesday, when Burres wasn't able to pitch. Trembley opted for Albers over Lance Cormier, and he had to burn the latter option a lot sooner than he expected.
Six straight batters reached base in the first inning -- four off Albers (3-3) and two off Cormier -- and four of them came around to score. Cormier found himself back in trouble in the second inning, and the Cubs (49-29) reached him for two more runs. Eight of Chicago's nine starters got at least one hit, and pitcher Ted Lilly singled twice in the first four innings.
"He did what everybody would do: He went out there and tried to battle," Cormier said of Albers. "He tried to pick us up, but I don't want to say we were in a hole because we've got an extra guy down there. He's done good in his other starts and we all had the confidence in him to go out there, put up some numbers and give us some innings."
"It was an unusual game, I guess," added outfielder Jay Payton, who accounted for all of Baltimore's offense with two home runs. "It's hard to really put this one into context. Tonight was out of the ordinary. You had two pitchers go down by the second inning or first inning or whatever it was. It was an unusual game for us. Unfortunately, we got the loss on top of it."
The Orioles didn't just get the loss -- they may have hamstrung their bullpen for the rest of the road trip.
Johnson, Chad Bradford and overworked closer George Sherrill are the only arms that weren't used on Wednesday night, and Cormier, Ryan Bukvich and Dennis Sarfate all worked extended outings. Trembley said that Burres could likely be used out of the bullpen on Thursday night, but the Orioles will still need a strong outing from starter Radhames Liz.
"You can look at it that way, but all we've got to do is put up a good start," said Cormier. "And I'm pretty sure Brian might be able to go tomorrow. He can help us out if he needs to go long, but one start from Liz picks everybody up."
Then again, if Albers needs to head to the disabled list, the Orioles could make a roster move. Prime candidates include Fernando Cabrera and Adam Loewen, both of whom have dealt with their own injuries this season. Loewen has worked scoreless innings for Double-A Bowie in each of the last two nights, but Trembley doesn't want to rush him.
The original plan was to re-evaluate the southpaw's status after June 28, and Trembley seemed willing to stick to that.
"I wouldn't want to speculate on that," he said. "I wouldn't have anything to say about Loewen until after he reports to the ballpark tomorrow. Tonight was a big test for him. ... I would be very cautious to think that way."
Albers allowed three hits and walked one batter, leaving with the bases loaded and one out. Cormier coaxed an infield grounder from the first batter he faced -- catcher Geovany Soto -- but shortstop Alex Cintron couldn't keep the ball in the infield. Two runners scored on the play, and second baseman Mark DeRosa drove another run in with a base hit.
Payton hit the first of his two two-run homers in the second inning, but Cormier gave those runs right back. The Cubs loaded the bases again in that rally, scoring one run on a fielder's choice and another on a two-out hit by Soto. Baltimore wouldn't score again until the fourth inning, when Payton took Lilly (8-5) deep over the right-field wall.
"It's something that we've been battling, our ability to put zeroes up on the board after we score," said Trembley. "The home run ball has really hurt us in certain situations. Lilly pitched a good game. I thought early in the game we might have got to him. He seemed to get better as the game went on. Their back-end of the bullpen was obviously very good."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.