ST. PETERBURG, Fla. - The Orioles weren’t going to get a deep start tonight from Miguel Castro. They knew it was going to be a bullpen game. The only question was how long it would take for the phone to ring.
Castro escaped jams in back-to-back innings before Brad Miller broke a scoreless tie in the fourth with a three-run homer, and the Orioles lost again 4-3 before an announced crowd of 15,416 at Tropicana Field.
The Orioles have dropped 18 of their last 22 games and are 75-86 overall and 29-51 on the road as they approach the season finale. They remain tied with the Blue Jays for fourth place. Or last if your glass is half empty.
Pedro Álvarez’s two-run single off Tommy Hunter in the eighth guaranteed that the Orioles would avoid their 12th shutout this season and fifth this month. The champagne wasn’t put on ice.
Making his first major league start, Castro threw 59 pitches in 3 1/3 innings before left-hander Richard Bleier replaced him. Ten pitches short of his season high on Aug. 3.
“He got a little tired,” said manager Buck Showalter. “I’m not sure. He worked through a lot of trouble. It wasn’t like it was an unscathed first three innings. It was a good step for him. We’ll see if he can build on it, give us some options as he goes forward.”
Rays starter Chris Archer blanked the Orioles on two hits through five innings: J.J. Hardy’s double in the second and Anthony Santander’s single leading off the third. They put two runners on base in the sixth against Steve Cishek, but Hardy lined out.
Álvarez’s single off Hunter gave the Orioles their first runs in the last 24 innings. Chris Davis grounded into a 4-5-3 double play to end the eighth.
Davis also walked and struck out twice to raise his total to 193 in 127 games.
Hardy led off the ninth inning with another double and moved to third on Chance Sisco’s single off Alex Colomé. Pinch-hitter Seth Smith struck out, Santander lifted a sacrifice fly to center field and Jonathan Schoop lined to center.
“Whenever we get something rolling, it’s a good sign, especially off the caliber of pitcher that Colomé is,” Sisco said. “Just trying to put good at-bats together and try to string something together.”
Said Showalter: “I think it was as much that they were making some mistakes and we were doing something with them. Archer’s got, what, 200 innings? One of the best pitchers in the league and we didn’t do a whole lot off him to create very many opportunities.”
Castro retired the side in order in the first inning on 11 pitches, getting a popup, called third strike and ground ball. He stranded two runners in the second and two more in the third, but Corey Dickerson and Adeiny Hechavarria opened the fourth with singles and Miller drove a slider into the right field seats.
Daniel Robertson shattered his bat on a comebacker and Showalter made the switch.
“Overall, happy for the opportunity,” Castro said through interpreter Ramon Alarcon. “It’s been a long season, many different experiences. Happy to be out there, healthy and just trying to compete.
“The biggest difference was I had almost a week without pitching. Being in the bullpen you pitch one day, two or three times a week. So, I had a lot of off days and had to adjust to that.”
Sisco praised Castro’s work.
“Good,” he said. “He was cruising for a little bit. He was making really good pitches, commanding all three of his pitches. Overall, he did really well, I thought. One pitch that he kind of left up and that’s what cost him the runs. But other than that, he made really good pitches. Smooth throughout the three-plus innings that he went.”
The slider produced strikeouts in the first two innings, but Miller crushed the one thrown to him.
“I was trying to locate the ball low in the zone throughout the whole game,” Castro said. “Obviously, there was one pitch which he took advantage of it. After that, I just tried to compete again.”
Orioles starters have gone four innings or fewer in the last five games. Bleier, Mychal Givens, Donnie Hart and Darren O’Day followed Castro tonight. Hart allowed a run in the seventh on Wilson Ramos’ sacrifice fly after Kevin Keiermaier singled, stole second base and moved to third on a balk.
Castro’s ERA climbed from 2.38 to 3.53 with runs allowed in his last seven appearances. He’s thrown 66 1/3 innings with the Orioles and 24 1/3 with Double-A Bowie. He’s earned a long rest.
At least until winter ball. It’s been discussed.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s really up to the coaches, the pitching coach, the manager. I’m not really sure. Maybe. But we’ll see.”
Asked to compare Castro as a reliever and starter, Showalter replied, “Different look. Different presentation.
“You watch him during the course of a day preparing for a start, there wasn’t a whole lot of change in him. He’s a pretty under-control guy. He likes to compete. He’s a smart guy. He knows what’s going on and we certainly don’t draw a lot of attention to it for him.
“It’s little things like times to the plate. He fluctuates all over the place. It’s something that he’s got to do a better job with before they get here. This is a tough place to be teaching people to be perfect to the plate. That stuff’s got to start in Aberdeen.”
The Rays put runners on second and third with one out in the second inning, but Miller bounced into a force at home and Robertson struck out. They had runners on the corners with one out in the third, but Ramos struck out on a 92 mph fastball and Logan Morrison flied out.
The tightrope snapped in the fourth, but the string of losses is taut.