For Baltimore left-hander Scott McGregor, tonight's 5-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals indicated that his struggling spring is nowhere near being transformed into a starry summer.

Frank White, George Brett and Jim Sundberg hit homers in a five-run fourth inning to knock out a confused McGregor and hand the Orioles their third straight defeat.

In his past five starts, McGregor's earned-run average is 10.71. He has pitched past the fourth inning only once this season and given up nine homers in 30 2/3 innings.

Tonight, in front of 22,202 at Memorial Stadium, McGregor started with the form of a man whose 93-50 record from 1979 through 1984 was the best in baseball. He finished looking more like a batting-practice pitcher.

In the first three innings, McGregor (1-4) threw 31 pitches and retired nine straight batters after Willie Wilson led off with an infield hit. Then, in the fourth, he threw 21 pitches, giving up three homers, two sharply hit singles and two very loud outs.

The way the Royals were hitting pitch after pitch, Orioles fielders might consider wearing helmets the next time McGregor pitches.

"I felt good, but the ball's not doing the things it's supposed to," McGregor said. "I could sit here for four hours trying to figure out the problem, but that probably won't help. My velocity was down. You can't really pitch in this league throwing 76 (mph)."

The Orioles' pitching coach, Ray Miller, disagreed. "Velocity is not relevant to pitching. McGregor's a change-of-speed pitcher, and he's not changing speeds," he said. "The first three innings was Scott McGregor. In the fourth, I think he let the fact that White hit the ball out bother him."

Kansas City's fourth-inning power display turned a 1-0 deficit into a 5-1 lead.

The Orioles scored in the first inning in unusual fashion -- at least for them. They manufactured a run through speed, taking advantage of Lee Lacy in his second game as an Oriole after missing the opening weeks with a thumb injury.

Lacy led off with a four-pitch walk and, as Wayne Gross struck out, Lacy stole second and advanced to third when catcher Sundberg's throw skipped into center field.

On an 0-2 pitch, Cal Ripken then hit a shallow fly ball to center fielder Wilson. Perhaps no other player on the Orioles' roster would have considered tagging up against Wilson from that distance. Lacy, however, tested him. Wilson's excellent throw beat Lacy to home by a split second, but Sundberg missed the tag. Even though Lacy missed home plate, he scrambled back in time to score.

In the fourth, White and Brett led off with back-to-back, line-drive homers, White's to left field and Brett's to right. With one out, Steve Balboni lined a single down the third-base line and Darryl Motley singled sharply to center. After Lynn Jones flied out, Sundberg, a long-time Orioles nemesis, hit an upper-deck shot just inside the left-field foul pole for a three-run homer.

"I don't think Scotty made a mistake on me," Brett said. "He threw me a slow breaking ball on the outside. He's thrown me that pitch since I was a little kid, and I've never hit a homer off of it. Scotty might be going through a lack-of-confidence thing. Quiz (Royals reliever Dan Quisenberry) went through that a couple of weeks ago."

The inning ended mercifully when Onix Concepcion (two homers in 783 prior at bats) smashed McGregor's first pitch to left center, where Fred Lynn made a spectacular leaping, into-the-wall catch.

Concepcion's near-homer retired McGregor and 32-year-old rookie Nate Snell came on in relief, keeping the Orioles' comeback hopes alive with five innings of one-hit, shutout pitching.

In the fifth, with Rick Dempsey (walk) on second and Ripken (single) on first and two out, Eddie Murray hit a 3-2 pitch to the opposite field, finding the gap in left center for a two-run double and a 5-3 game. But Lynn flied out.