Only the pitch count was threatening John Means tonight. At least for a while.
Means carried a two-hit shutout into the fourth inning at Tropicana Field, but he already threw 66 pitches - 12 to strike out Kevin Kiermaier in the third.
A bigger issue arose when Jorge Mateo’s error led to three unearned runs, the last two coming on Mike Zunino’s homer. Means was at 80 pitches heading into the fifth, Nelson Cruz hit a three-run homer and the Orioles’ losing streak reached 13 games with the Rays winning 10-0.
One more defeat and the Orioles will match their longest streak of the season. They’re 38-80 overall, 1-14 this month, 1-13 versus the Rays and 6-22 in St. Petersburg, Fla., since the beginning of the 2018 season.
Cruz hit a two-run homer off Tanner Scott in the sixth for a 10-0 lead, the ball traveling 437 feet with an exit velocity of 112.3 mph per Statcast.
The Orioles have been outscored 123-36 during the losing streak.
No team in the history of the American League had endured two streaks of 13 or more games in the same season.
“It’s awful,” Means said. “It hasn’t been easy. A lot of our guys are losing sleep, a lot of our guys are frustrated with what they’re doing, and especially me. I need to be better, I need to do better and the only way to do that is to keep adjusting, keep trying to get the work in in between starts and move on.”
Means was coming off his worst start of the season, which raised his ERA above 3.00 for the first time. He allowed six runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Tigers and faced an opponent tonight that scored 11 runs (10 earned) with 21 hits against him this summer in 16 1/3 innings.
Being a stopper is hard work. The Rays made it impossible.
Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead in the fourth after Wander Franco reached on Mateo’s fielding error. Franco raced to second on Yandy Díaz’s fly ball to center and scored on Manuel Margot’s double over the head of right fielder Anthony Santander.
Zunino batted with two outs and hit his 26th home run, lining a 91 mph fastball into the left field seats.
Means couldn’t get an out in the fifth. Kiermaier led off with a single, Randy Arozarena singled and Cruz hit his 25th homer on a high fly ball to left, this time on a changeup. Wander Franco singled on Means’ 92nd pitch and rookie Marcos Diplán entered.
Margot grounded into a force and scored on Brandon Lowe’s double for a 7-0 lead and the first hit allowed by Diplán in five major league appearances. Ramón Urías dropped a popup behind second base and Lowe scored, giving Diplán his own unearned run.
“I felt pretty good,” Means said. “I thought the pitch to Zunino, I thought I hit my spot and he just got to it. And the one to Cruz, I thought I left a little bit middle. But I liked my stuff tonight and just did not get the results I wanted.”
Four of the seven runs charged to Means were earned to go with eight hits, no walks and seven strikeouts. The ERA is 3.44 for the season and 6.10 in 31 innings since he was reinstated from the injured list.
Means has allowed 22 home runs in 18 starts, one short of tying his career high in 31 games in 2019.
“I felt like my stuff today was really good,” he said. “I thought striking out six of the first nine, 10, I really thought like today we’re going to turn it around. I feel good. I’ll look back at the tape and try to figure it out, but it’s definitely not from lack of effort. That’s for sure.”
Means struck out two batters in the first inning, stranded Arozarena after a leadoff infield single on a chopper mishandled by Mateo and threw 23 pitches. The last part was a bit alarming with the Orioles wanting more length from a starter and fewer phone calls to the bullpen.
Arozarena doubled with two outs in the third - he’s 21-for-42 against the Orioles this season - but Means notched three more strikeouts to run his total to seven. Kiermaier worked him hard before swinging through a 93 mph fastball.
“I thought the first three innings were John Means,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “An error there to start the fourth, but errors happen. We didn’t stop the bleeding there.
“I thought the first three innings, he was really good. I thought they battled him tough. A lot of foul balls, a lot of deep counts. He was making good pitches. They’re a scrappy team and he was at 60-ish pitches after three innings, putting up zeros. He had a tough time finishing guys.
“I’m sure when the game started, his thought were to stop this and to pick us up because he’s a super competitor and he’s a good starting pitcher and he’s going to be good. Just didn’t make pitches there in the fourth and fifth, and I don’t know if trying too much there, just not executing.”
Scott was removed after two-thirds of an inning. His velocity was down but Hyde said health didn’t factor into it.
“I think Tanner was trying to throw strikes,” Hyde said. “That’s the reason. It’s definitely not injury-related. Tanner’s command goes in and out and tonight you see the spray misses. He’s got great stuff. It’s about being able to command the baseball and sometimes he tries to slow it down a little bit to throw strikes instead of letting it eat ... Was just erratic tonight.”
Mateo lined a single up the middle with two outs in the third inning for the only hit off Rays starter Drew Rasmussen. Mateo has an eight-game hitting streak and 14 hits in 11 games with the Orioles after he singled off Chris Ellis in the sixth.
Those were the only hits for the Orioles until Austin Hays reached on an infield single in the seventh.
Rasmussen handled the first four innings for Tampa Bay and the only other baserunner came on a Ryan Mountcastle walk.
Mountcastle doubled in the ninth to extend his hitting streak to nine games, but his RBI streak ended at seven in a row.
Notes: Pitcher Adam Plutko cleared waivers and accepted his outright assignment to Triple-A Norfolk. Plutko allowed home runs in a club-record six consecutive relief appearances. He posted a 6.71 ERA and 1.633 WHIP in 38 appearances with 17 home runs in 56 1/3 innings.
The Tides were rained out tonight in Charlotte and have a doubleheader Wednesday. Hunter Harvey will pitch an inning on his injury rehab assignment.
Double-A Bowie’s Grayson Rodriguez held Reading to one run and two hits in five innings, with one walk and six strikeouts, and lowered his ERA to 2.33.
Trendon Craig, a 20th-round draft pick this year, hit his first professional home run today, a three-run shot, and had four RBIs for the Rookie-level Florida Complex League Black team.
Isaac Bellony had both hits today for the FCL Orange team.
Cowser doubled, walked and reached on an error.