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SEA@BAL: Chen fans five over seven innings

BALTIMORE -- Manager Buck Showalter said this weekend that he has intentionally not paid attention to the American League Wild Card standings lately.

Given the Orioles' drop lately, he picked a good time to tune out.

Less than two weeks ago, the Orioles were 2 1/2 games shy of the AL East lead. Now, after a 4-5 homestand capped by a 3-2 loss to the Mariners on Sunday at Camden Yards, they sit 6 1/2 games out and are trending in the wrong direction.

The team's first homestand following the All-Star break was viewed as an opportunity to gain some ground in the AL East. With the Red Sox, Astros and Mariners coming to town for a nine-game set, the Orioles could have hoped to add wins in the division and beat up on the AL West cellar dwellers.

Sunday, then, represented a missed opportunity, as did the homestand viewed holistically.

"It's a turn-the-page. It is what it is," Showalter said of the team's disappointing stretch. "You try to learn from things, but if you dwell on it, there's another one around the corner. So we don't sit there and lament what could have been. You have to focus on what has to be in the future."

The team's first losing homestand since May 14-22 dropped the Orioles (61-51) further behind the AL East-leading Red Sox. After the Orioles swept the Rangers in Texas and won the first game in Kansas City, they looked like world-beaters. Since that time, though, they started a rapid descent that saw the team go 4-8 while struggling at times at the plate, on the mound and in the field.

Wei-Yin Chen was solid through six innings, but he faltered a little in the seventh, spoiling what would have been an uplifting start for an Orioles team seeking pitching consistency. The lefty allowed just one run through six, but he issued a pair of walks and a two-run homer to Henry Blanco in the seventh to take the loss.

"I feel really good today physically, except that really dangerous one to Blanco. It was a fastball and he is swinging the bat very well," Chen said through his interpreter, Tim Lin. "I think I could do a better job of pitch selection next time."

Center fielder Adam Jones said it wasn't even that bad of a pitch, but that Blanco may have been looking for a fastball he could handle inside. He got the pitch and didn't miss it, stroking the 0-2 heater on a line drive out to left field to put Seattle ahead for good.

"We were one swing and one run away from being in a different situation. They got some production out of the bottom of their order, and that hurts," Showalter said.

Chen (6-4, 2.95 ERA) struck out the first batter in the seventh, but issued a pair of walks to the next two batters. He eliminated the first one with a pickoff to first as the runner broke for second, and first baseman Chris Davis threw down to second to record the out. But Chen walked Brendan Ryan and gave up the blast to Blanco, sealing his fate.

Showalter said he didn't consider taking out Chen, who was the Orioles' best pitcher a season ago, after the two walks to face the right-handed Blanco.

"No, he was pitching well, carrying good stuff as evidenced by the next hitter he faced," Showalter said of Chen, who got Brad Miller to ground to first to end the inning. "He was throwing the ball well the whole outing. Real proud of him."

The Orioles targeted pitching at this season's non-waiver Trade Deadline, adding two starters and a right-handed reliever in July. But perhaps the most significant addition to bolster the staff was Chen's return from the 15-day disabled list. Sunday marked his fifth consecutive quality start since returning from an oblique injury that sidelined him for nearly two months.

But it came in a losing effort, one in which the Orioles stranded eight men on base through the first five innings, including going 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

"It's always tough. It's a tough challenge, and that's why it's so gratifying and will be if we can do it," Showalter said of leaving scoring chances on the bases. "There's going to be some bumps in the road, but we knew coming in Seattle was playing real well, swinging the bats well. You see the pitching they run out there. They kind of found their step."

Chen retired the side in order in the first. But consecutive doubles to lead off the second by Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez brought home a run, giving the Mariners a 1-0 lead.

That score held until the sixth, when recently recalled Danny Valencia hit a two-run homer to put the Orioles on the board against lefty Joe Saunders. Steve Pearce drew a walk to open the frame, and Valencia hit one out to left-center for his fifth homer of the year to give the O's a 2-1 lead.

"I thought we were pretty much in control of the game, and then Blanco hit that homer and we were behind pretty fast," Valencia said. "Their guys did a good job in the bullpen tonight, so it just came up a little short."

Valencia got the call Saturday night that he'd be added to the active roster, and he didn't get to Baltimore until roughly 4 a.m. Sunday morning, he said. This came after consecutive late nights and travel days with Triple-A Norfolk, but when he saw his name in the starting lineup Sunday morning all he thought was, "Let's do it."

The O's offense didn't generate any runs apart from Valencia's blast. But Jones said he looks at the positive of putting so many runners on in scoring position early, even if they didn't come around to score.

"They worked me. I had battled with everything I had today and they worked it," Saunders said. "They're patient, but they can be aggressive, too. They're a well-rounded lineup and make you work.

"It wasn't easy. I was thinking to myself, it must be nice to get a 1-2-3 inning, but it wasn't happening today. They made me work."

Both Jones and Nick Markakis refuted the idea that it was a disappointing homestand, and instead echoed what Showalter said, that the team would rather turn the page to the West Coast rather than review what happened over the last few series.

"Not really," Jones said, when asked if the sour end to the homestand puts a damper on the team's ethos. "Nothing sour to me. You show up ready to play. You can't win every one. There's no [pouting] and crying about it. That's how this clubhouse handles it."

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