The Baltimore Orioles again proved Friday night that there are few deficits out of their reach, injecting late-inning suspense into a game that appeared to be a blowout.

After trailing by eight runs in the eighth inning, they brought the tying run to the plate, falling just short in a 12-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. But the concern in Baltimore these days is a starting rotation that is struggling at a critical time of the season.

Right-hander Jason Hammel, the club’s opening day starter, often has played the role of stopper when the Orioles have needed innings. But now he’s stuck trying to stop an unsettling personal skid.

Hammel was unable to get out of the fifth inning for his second straight start, allowing seven runs on 10 hits over 42 / 3 innings as part of a 17-hit Tampa Bay hit parade in front of an announced 38,061 at Camden Yards.

The Orioles (23-18) have lost three straight for just the second time this year and the first time since the season’s first week.

Hammel (5-2) allowed the most runs since yielding eight in a 31 / 3-inning start against the Los Angeles Angels last June 27. In 29 starts with the Orioles, it’s just the second time he has allowed seven or more runs. Hammel hasn’t completed six innings in three of his past four starts. And after pitching to a 3.79 ERA in six April starts, Hammel has a 10.43 ERA in three outings this month.

“It’s tough,” Hammel said. The minute you start beating up yourself, you kind of put yourself behind the eight ball. So I always expect the best out of myself, but I do know that I’ve been in this situation before, where I’ve been through a little tough run, that getting down on yourself and really beating yourself up and not letting yourself get better will only hurt you. So I’ve got to have a short memory and get back to work.”

With the Orioles having begun a stretch of 17 games in 17 days — and 34 games in 35 days — on Friday, the team’s rotation is struggling. In five of the past six games, the starter has gone five innings or less — and they have lost four of those six games.

“We had some challenges last year, and we will again this year,” Orioles Manager Buck Showalter said. “That’s part of it. It’s frustrating for us as a team, not as a pitching staff, to score 10 and not be able to win the game. But it happens sometimes. I was an out or two away from getting some of those guys out of the game. Next thing I know, we had the tying run at the plate.”

Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen — two of the team’s most consistent starting pitchers — are on the disabled list (Gonzalez hopes to return Tuesday from a thumb blister). Freddy Garcia struggled in his last outing, and the team is calling up Jair Jurrjens from Class AAA Norfolk to pitch Saturday.

Jurrjens will be the team’s 10th starting pitcher this season.

And Hammel, who prides himself in getting the Orioles deep into games, has struggled to provide an anchor for a floundering rotation.

“Definitely, that’s my role,” Hammel said. “That’s any starting pitcher’s role, to go in and pick your guys up when others go down. And I did it last year [when I got hurt], and they picked me up. So it is my turn to start pulling some weight, and I’m not doing it right now.”

Tampa Bay’s 12 runs Friday were the most the Orioles have allowed this season, and over the past two games the Orioles have allowed 34 hits.

– Baltimore Sun