Orioles left-hander Zach Britton slogged through another sloppy, shaky first inning Thursday night in which an early exit again loomed menacingly.
Give the rookie a smidgen of credit, though, since he survived the first and then battled until the sixth in the Orioles' 9-4 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
That's pretty much where the good karma ended for Britton, who allowed a career-worst 12 hits in 5 1/3 innings in an outing that can be labeled only as not as bad as his past two.
"You are going to have [adversity] your whole career, you might as well get used to it," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Britton. "And the more things that we can expose him to, that he's going to have to deal with, it's going to be better for us in the long run. It's a process. He's going to keep being exposed to those things, and he will figure it out."
By losing the rubber match here, the Orioles (43-65) have dropped 12 consecutive road series and haven't won a series of any kind in their past 10 attempts.
It hasn't been much better for Britton (6-9), who began his big league career by winning five of his first six games. He has lost five of his past six.
Britton, who surrendered three runs (one earned) in the first, actually was in line to get the win -- which would have been his first since June 8 -- when the Orioles took a 4-3 lead in the top of the sixth. But Britton unraveled and the usually reliable Jim Johnson followed suit. When the dust cleared, the Royals (48-63) had scored six runs in the sixth on a season-high eight hits in an inning. They ended with 17 in the game.
Britton, who was charged with six runs (four earned), left in the sixth after surrendering a one-out double and two consecutive singles. Johnson, who had given up just two runs in his past 11 2/3 innings, was touched up for five runs while recording two outs.
Two were infield singles, and Johnson threw away a comebacker for an error. The inning was so bad that Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds almost tackled umpire Tim Timmons.
OK, that one was by accident.
Yamaico Navarro hit a high chopper to third that Reynolds jumped for and couldn't snag, the ball tipping off his glove and rolling away while two runners scored. Reynolds couldn't stop his momentum, falling into, and nearly knocking over, Timmons.
The whole game was a stumble for the Orioles and Britton, but escaping another rough the first inning was a mini victory.
In his past two big league starts, he was pulled before completing three outs: He allowed eight runs (seven earned) in two-thirds of an inning against the Boston Red Sox on July 8 before his demotion to Double-A Bowie. He returned to pitch Saturday's nightcap in Yankee Stadium and surrendered nine runs (six earned) while retiring one batter.
So after giving up 17 runs over one inning in two starts, Britton surrendered just three (one earned) Thursday. The error, however, was his, as he couldn't handle a bunt by Melky Cabrera.
"I just told myself that it's not going to happen today," Britton said of his performance in the first inning. "That I've got to make some pitches and get out of the inning, especially after that error. There were a lot of things running through my mind. I was just glad I could get out of the inning and make some pitches."
Said Showalter: "You take the second inning on until the last inning, he threw the ball well. ... I was impressed that he went back out there after the first inning and got some outs for us and had a chance to be the winning pitcher here."
Still, Britton acknowledged not having the type of movement he's accustomed to on his sinker.
"I don't know why the sink is not there. I have always had sink," Britton said. "Is it I am getting tired? That's kind of where I am at right now. Am I tired? Is that why the sink is not there? Because I feel like my mechanics are fine. It's just things aren't sharp out of my hand right now."
Shortstop J.J. Hardy tied the game at 3 in the fifth with a solo homer against Jeff Francis. It was Hardy's 19th of the season and the 100th of his big-league career. Hardy, however, left in the middle of the seventh with a left low-ankle sprain. He plans to see Orioles orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens on Friday and is listed as day-to-day.
"Yesterday I felt it a little bit in between batting practice and the game, and it went away after I got off it a little bit," Hardy said. "It felt OK coming into today, and then it kind of crept back up on me. I don't think it's anything serious. I feel like if they had taken me out of the game last night, I would have been fine an inning later."
The Orioles scored individual runs in the third and fourth on RBI singles by Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters.
Wieters helped set up the Orioles' lone lead of the game with a double to start the sixth. Chris Davis followed with a double down the left-field line to score Wieters and break the tie at 3.
It was the Orioles' sixth double of the game, tying a season high, and it chased Francis, who was charged with four runs on 10 hits in five-plus innings. Overall, the Orioles managed 13 hits but left 11 runners on base.
Reliever Blake Wood (5-0) replaced Francis and ran into his own trouble in the sixth. He walked two -- one intentionally -- to load the bases, but he got Adam Jones to hit a comebacker to end the threat.
Jones, who stressed Wednesday that the Orioles needed the series win, slammed his helmet down in frustration when he reached first base.
It was that kind of night, that kind of road trip for the Orioles. They return to Camden Yards on Friday, limping home with a 3-7 record in their three-city jaunt.
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