ANAHEIM -- The curious case of starter Jake Arrieta continued on Thursday night, as the right-hander's poor showing negated a windfall of offense, backing Baltimore into a 9-7 series-opening loss to the Angels and forcing the Orioles to option their third starting pitcher in a week.For the second time in three starts, Arrieta failed to go four innings, and the 26-year-old did nothing to quell the uneasiness regarding his performance this season. Instead, he made it an all-too easy decision for the Oriole brass to send him to Triple-A Norfolk after surrendering six runs on five hits and three walks over a mere 11 outs. "I've said it many times. It ain't good enough," said manager Buck Showalter, who has also sent pitchers Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter, both part of the team's Opening Day rotation, to the Minor Leagues. "We've got to get better, and I think our guys understand that carrying around 6.00 ERAs in the American League just don't cut it." The Orioles' Opening Day starter, Arrieta (3-9, 6.18 ERA) has shown flashes of brilliance -- including May 2's eight-inning start in which no Yankees batter touched second base -- but those flashes have been few and far between. Following a seven-game stretch in which he went 0-6 with a 9.43 ERA, Arrieta was briefly demoted to the bullpen, but he never pitched in relief before an injury to Matusz put him back in the rotation. Arrieta looked as if he had turned the corner over the next three games, pitching to a 2.70 ERA and going six or more innings in each start, but Thursday's debacle was the second consecutive poor outing, and the Orioles -- at least for now -- have seen enough. Speaking before he knew of the team's decision to option him, Arrieta had a hard time justifying that he deserved another start at this level. "I really don't know," he said when asked if he had done enough to warrant a second-half rotation spot. "I would like to say yes, but with the struggles and with the way the first half was, you know, who knows? I mean, am I confident that things are going to turn around and be more positive in the second half? Yeah, absolutely. There's no question about that. But right now, the first half ended on a bad note." Thursday's loss -- coupled with the Rays' defeat -- keeps the Orioles' second-place cushion at 1 1/2 games in the American League East, but it also highlighted the team's biggest issue: starting pitching. The Orioles' rotation remains a major problem outside of Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen, with their starters having gone four innings or fewer in four of the past seven games. Arrieta has started two of those, and he never got in a rhythm Thursday night, unable to right the ship in spite of earlier mound visits from Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair. "Jake had great tempo earlier in the year," Showalter said. "It was something we really stressed to him and it seems like he's grinding a lot maybe trying to overanalyze it a little instead of just throwing a baseball." "I was really, really uncomfortable, couldn't establish any of my pitches," said a despondent Arrieta, who still seems to be searching for an answer in what he called a tough past few months.
"A four- or five-run lead is more than enough for me to win a game. That's the most frustrating part about it. When our offense puts together that many runs, we have to win the game. Doesn't matter who is on the mound we have to win the game."Instead, Arrieta let the game slip away. Staked to two separate leads of three and four runs, Arrieta couldn't put up a zero to follow his team's scoring, squandering a seven-run output that marked more runs than the Orioles had scored in 17 of their previous 18 games. "When Jake's able to command his fastball both sides of the plate, he's able to have success," said catcher Matt Wieters who had four RBIs, including a three-run homer, in the losing effort. "Tonight [he] didn't quite have that. Got behind a lot of hitters, a lot of walks to lead off the inning and it's a not a very good sign." The Orioles jumped on Angels starter Garrett Richards, with Mark Reynolds and Ryan Flaherty delivering back-to-back homers in a three-run second inning to give the team a 4-1 lead. Reynolds, who took a fastball off his left hand in the fourth inning, remained in the game and said afterwards that he doesn't think the injury is anything serious. "If it was broken I couldn't be able to hit my last at-bat there," said Reynolds, who remained in the game and had the area wrapped and iced afterward. "But, it's pretty sore." The Orioles' typically stout bullpen, forced to pick up some serious innings, couldn't stop the bleeding. Reliever Luis Ayala, who replaced Arrieta, allowed a pair of hits and an inherited runner to score, while Matt Lindstrom's leadoff walk in the sixth inning resulted in another run. It was young Angels phenom Mike Trout who worked the free pass, stole second and scored when Wieters' throw to third base sailed into left field.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.