BALTIMORE, JULY 15 -- Each time the Baltimore Orioles answer one question about their pitching staff, a new, more troubling one arises. An afternoon that began with a reliever shuffle and a starting rotation quandary ended with the Orioles singing a too-familiar refrain: What's wrong with Bob Milacki?
Another shaky performance today from their would-be workhorse and a pair of home runs by Kirby Puckett in the first two innings sent the Orioles on their way to a 10-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins before 42,817 in Memorial Stadium.
The Twins rapped four pitchers for 16 hits, including four homers that gave them nine in the four-game series. Puckett tagged Milacki for a three-run shot in the first inning and a two-run blast in the second for the seventh multihomer game of his career (including two against Baltimore this season). After being removed, Puckett caught Allan Anderson's warm-up throws before the Orioles batted in the seventh.
"What more can you ask from a guy? He does it all, day in and day out," Twins Manager Tom Kelly said. "He's driving me to the airport too."
Brian Holton later served up two-run home runs to Fred Manrique and Kent Hrbek. Every starter managed at least one hit and the Twins left for Boston with a weekend split.
Anderson (3-12) held the Orioles to six hits and one earned run over seven innings to end an eight-game losing streak and gain his first victory since May 14.
"It was disgusting, what I did out there," said Milacki, who surrendered six hits and six runs in 1 2/3 innings. "It's frustrating because I know I'm a better pitcher than that."
The loss was the Orioles' second in seven games and left them 40-47, in fifth place in the American League East. It came on a day the first-place Red Sox were losing to Kansas City, meaning a win would have put the Orioles within 6 1/2 games of the top.
"This is the time of the year you want to make up some ground, so you don't have to play .700 baseball down the stretch to have a chance," Baltimore Manager Frank Robinson said. "That's what's most frustrating."
The Orioles began the day with another of their rapid-fire roster moves, activating left-handed reliever Joe Price. He went on the disabled list June 29 with a lower back strain and pronounced himself healthy last week. Price worked two scoreless innings today, and said, "I wasn't sharp, but I'm 100 percent physically and I'll come back around."
To make room for him, the club optioned another bullpen lefty, Kevin Hickey, to Class AAA Rochester. Hickey became expendable with his recent inability to get out left-handed batters: Lefties had zero hits in their first 15 at-bats against him this season, but went 11 for 18 since.
After the game, Robinson named Jeff Ballard as his starting pitcher for Monday's game against the Texas Rangers. His plan for a four-man rotation through at least the initial two series of the second half was thwarted by Thursday's rainout, which moved Pete Harnisch's regular turn back a day to Friday's doubleheader.
The Orioles' pitching had been solid of late; they came into today with an earned run average of 2.37 in the first four games of a 12-game homestand that opens the season's second half. But Milacki (4-6) bloated that figure quickly and left himself with one victory in eight outings.
Milacki is winless in his past three starts and failed to last three innings for the second straight turn -- Kansas City got six hits and five runs in 2 2/3 innings his last time out.
Robinson had hoped pitching him on three days' rest would help since Milacki was 7-1 lifetime when throwing with three days or fewer between starts, but even that ploy faltered.
Pitching coach Al Jackson attributed Milacki's recent difficulties to mechanical flaws in his delivery. "It's a rhythm thing," Jackson said. "He has a few little things he starts doing wrong in his motion every now and then, and it affects him a lot. . . . The way he's doing things now, he's probably only getting about 70 or 75 percent of what he should be getting out of some pitches."
Milacki also started slowly last year -- when he ended up setting an Orioles' rookie record for innings pitched and leading the AL in starts -- but he had begun to come around by this point in the season. Jackson said mechanical troubles were the reason then as well, but Milacki also suffers occasionally from stiffness in his right shoulder attributed to mild tendinitis.
He didn't tell Robinson or Jackson earlier this season when his shoulder was bothering him, and he continues to insist he's healthy. For now, Robinson seems inclined to believe him.
"He had good velocity and pretty good control," Robinson said. "When he was hurt before, he was all over the place. . . . He just made some bad pitches today. We'll throw this one out the window and see what we can do to improve the next time."
Milacki was down, 3-0, after the game's first three batters, but he deserved a better fate. Shane Mack led off the game with a sharp grounder off third baseman Craig Worthington's glove that was scored a hit. Al Newman followed with a pop fly that fell near the right field line in the rain-soaked outfield for a double.
Milacki also got Puckett to pop up, but the ball fell between Worthington, shortstop Cal Ripken and left fielder Phil Bradley in foul territory. The Twins' center fielder lined Milacki's next pitch into the left field bleachers just inside the foul pole for his 11th homer.
The Orioles got a run back in their half of the first on back-to-back doubles by Bradley and Randy Milligan, whose two RBI gave him 38 in his last 42 games. But Puckett struck again in the second. With two on and two out, he blasted a 2-0 Milacki fastball halfway up the bleachers in left for a 6-1 lead.
Holton's arrival did nothing to slow Minnesota's slugfest. Manrique struck in the third and, after Milligan's sacrifice fly scored Mike Devereaux to cut Baltimore's deficit to 8-2, Hrbek followed a walk to Puckett with a monstrous clout to right for a 10-2 advantage.
Sam Horn provided the Orioles' final run with a ninth-inning home run off John Savage.
Orioles Notes: Ripken handled four chances without an error before being relieved by Rene Gonzales in the sixth inning. He's four games and two chances short of major league records for errorless streaks for a shortstop. It was the 13th time in his streak of 1,337 consecutive games that Ripken left a contest early.