BALTIMORE (AP) - The exceptional starting pitching that helped the Baltimore Orioles get off to a surprisingly good start has suddenly turned sour.
Brian Matusz turned in another horrid performance Sunday, and after the Orioles lost to the Cleveland Indians 6-2, the struggling left-hander was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.
Matusz (5-10) lost his fifth straight start. He allowed five runs, four earned, seven hits and three walks in four-plus innings. In his two previous career starts against Cleveland, Matusz was 1-0 with an 0.64 ERA.
Matusz yielded 20 earned runs and 40 hits over 21 1-3 innings during his losing streak. His shoddy start followed similar performances by Jason Hammel, Dana Eveland, Jake Arrieta and Wei-Yin Chen.
``He's not the only guy that's had some struggles,' manager Buck Showalter said of Matusz. ``I don't want to hang it all on Brian. We've had some other people that, just statistically looking at it, you know they've got to be better.'
The Orioles hope Matusz can correct his flaws - most notably command of the fastball - in the minor leagues.
``I think there's a couple adjustments he can make that will help him,' said Dan Duquette, the team's executive vice president of baseball operations. ``He's not too far away from being a winning major league pitcher. With a couple adjustments and some consistencies that will help him command his fastball better, that will give him a much better chance.'
Given his performance of late, Matusz was not surprised by the demotion.
``No, not at all. In my last five, six outings just haven't been getting the job done,' he said. ``Today was just really inconsistent, I had some signs of good pitches, just haven't been putting it together. It's killing the bullpen. It's making it tough, so moves have to be made. I have to go down and get better.'
Jim Thome went 0 for 4 in his Baltimore debut. Acquired Saturday in a trade with Philadelphia, the 41-year-old slugger struck out twice and grounded out twice against the team with which he broke into the majors in 1991.
All-Star selection Adam Jones drove in a run and scored one for the Orioles, who have lost five of six and nine of 12.
Justin Masterson pitched seven innings of five-hit ball, Shelley Duncan homered and hit two doubles, and Aaron Cunningham contributed a solo shot for the Indians. Cleveland totaled 55 hits in the four games, including eight for extra bases in the finale.
The Indians lost two of three in Houston and were swept in three games by the Yankees before bullying the skidding Orioles.
``Being able to finish by winning three of four boosts the boys as we head back home, finally,' Masterson said.
Masterson (5-7) retired the first 12 batters he faced and earned his first road win in four tries since May 3. The right-hander gave up two runs, one earned,, struck out seven and walked none.
``Masterson was dominant the majority of the game,' Indians manager Manny Acta said. ``He was in command all day. He was able to throw that four-seam by guys whenever he wanted to at 95 or 96. Never a doubt.'
Cleveland, which came into the series 5-16 against left-handed starters, beat lefties Wei-Yin Chen, Dana Eveland and Matusz.
Cunningham, who homered off Matusz, said, ``Our guys can hit lefties. I'm sure throughout the season we'll get better with it.'
After Matusz left, Miguel Gonzalez struck out five and gave up one run in 4 1-3 innings. The rookie was recalled earlier in the day to fortify an overworked bullpen.
Duncan put the Indians up 1-0 in the second with his sixth home run, and Cunningham added a solo shot in the third. Doubles by Jose Lopez, Duncan and Casey Kotchman, along with a sacrifice fly by Lou Marson, made it 5-0 in the fourth.
Baltimore got an unearned run in the fifth. After Jones reached on a bad-hop grounder to Cabrera at shortstop that was ruled an error, Ryan Flaherty lined a two-out RBI single to left.
The Orioles closed to 5-2 in the sixth when J.J. Hardy singled and scored on a double by Jones. But Baltimore got only two hits the rest of the way.
Cleveland added a run in the ninth on a double by Cabrera and an RBI single by Jason Kipnis.
NOTES: Indians 3B Lonnie Chisenhall underwent surgery Saturday to repair a fractured bone in his right forearm. The team says he can resume baseball activities in 10-12 weeks. ... The Orioles optioned OF Xavier Avery and RHP Tommy Hunter to Norfolk. ... Baltimore's Wilson Betemit extended his hitting streak to 11 games. ... Cleveland improved to 16-0 on the road when leading after six innings. ... Baltimore went 3-6 on its final homestand until July 13-15.
The Associated Press News Service
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