O's can't erase early deficit to Marlins
Hill allows a pair of two-run homers in first three innings
MIAMI -- Rich Hill threw strikes. Too many of them.
Hill, who has often struggled when he can't find the strike zone, saw a different kind of adversity on Thursday, when the Marlins reached him for six runs in an 11-3 win.
Hill has now been knocked out before completing five innings in four of his past six starts, but the Orioles appear to be committed to completing his reclamation project.
"Let's give the Marlins a lot of credit," said manager Dave Trembley. "The middle of their lineup really came through tonight, and they got good starting pitching. We fell behind early and didn't stay away from big innings a couple of times."
The Marlins scored five runs in the eighth inning to salt away the game, but most of the damage came on Hill's watch. The left-hander presented a bizarre juxtaposition in the early going, as he struck out the side on 10 pitches in the first inning and then allowed two crucial two-run homers in the second and third.
Cody Ross hit the first homer, a no-doubt shot that went into the green seats beyond the left-field scoreboard. Dan Uggla hit the next one, a drive that traveled to the same vector as Ross' but fell several rows short.
Hill had only allowed one home run prior to this outing, but he's struggled to present any sense of consistency.
"The first inning, he definitely had a swing-and-miss pitch," said Trembley. "His breaking ball was real sharp; it was late. He expanded the strike zone, got them to chase. It seemed after that the Marlins really strung their approach at the plate and forced him to come in the middle of the plate. When they got it there, they didn't miss it."
Hill, who was acquired from the Cubs during the offseason for a conditional player to be named, has thrown two quality starts in eight outings this season. He began the season on the disabled list because of a strained left elbow, and he's spent most of June alternating between efficiency and abject struggles.
The 29-year-old went seven shutout innings in his first start of the month, then he recorded just two outs in his next outing. He went on to throw four innings against Atlanta on June 13, and he followed that by pitching into the seventh against Philadelphia. Following that, he left with one out in the fifth on Thursday night.
"I think it was definitely mistakes in pitch selection that I made," Hill said, "throwing Ross a changeup at 0-2 instead of maybe a fastball in or a breaking ball down and away or in the dirt. There were a lot of other things I could have done in that game to at least keep us in the ballgame and keep the score a little bit closer."
Hill (3-2) walked one batter and threw 60 of his 89 pitches for strikes, but his ERA jumped nearly a full run in the process (from 5.18 to 6.03). He has completed six innings just twice this season, and he admitted that Florida's first home run came after he had shaken off two ideas from catcher Matt Wieters.
"I think he wanted a fastball," Hill said. "I shook to a curveball, and then we went to the changeup. That's what I wanted to throw. But at the same time, it was a pitch that I thought was going to be effective. I just kind of left it up a little bit."
The Orioles (32-40) lost all three games in Miami, spoiling the residual momentum from a three-game sweep of Philadelphia. And despite making two of the games close -- losing the first two by a combined total of four runs -- the Orioles notched just one earned run and 12 hits in 20 innings against Florida's starters.
"We played three great games in Philly. We came out today and just couldn't get anything working," said right fielder Nick Markakis, who went 4-for-4 on Thursday. "Everybody knows what we're capable of, but just putting it all together is still in the works. I thought we had some good at-bats and nothing to show for it."
Sean West threw six shutout innings for the Marlins (38-36), and the Orioles weren't able to score until the ninth inning. Baltimore reliever Chris Ray was charged with five earned runs, four of them on a grand slam by Hanley Ramirez in the eighth. But the game was long gone by that point, and Trembley appraised the game realistically.
"What you need in the National League-style of games [is] good starting pitching, and you have to stay away from the big inning," he said. "In Philadelphia we stayed away from the big inning. That's why we got good starting pitching. Here, we didn't stay away from the big inning. We just didn't do that. The first game, they put up five late. Tonight they put up five late. Those are the things that are hard to overcome."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.