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CLE@BAL: Markakis plates a pair with a single

BALTIMORE -- In a pitching rotation filled with uncertainty, Jeremy Guthrie was supposed to be the Orioles' rock.

Baltimore's No. 1 starter, the 32-year-old is a veteran compared to an inexperienced core that has featured rookie Zach Britton and second-year pitchers Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta. Guthrie not only brings experience, but a quality arm that reached the 200-inning plateau in each of the past two seasons.

But Guthrie, who lasted only five innings and gave up six earned runs against the Indians in an 8-4 loss Thursday night, has fallen into the same trap as the rest of the rotation -- digging a hole too deep for the O's offense to crawl out of. In his past five starts, dating back to June 21, Guthrie has allowed 24 earned runs.

"I felt like I wasn't able to throw the ball where I wanted to, either ahead -- I wasn't able to get ahead [much] in the count -- or when I fell behind, I had a really hard time throwing strikes and getting back into it," Guthrie said. "It's tough to put your team in the hole like that."

Orioles starters have pitched through seven innings just once in the past 27 games -- Guthrie completed seven frames on July 1 against the Braves. In the club's past 17 contests, the rotation has posted a 9.65 ERA and only two outings lasted as much as six innings.

The short starts have forced the Orioles into the uncomfortable role of playing from behind, which has contributed to a season-high-tying eight-game losing streak.

"I think it was good for everybody to get a break from the game," said center fielder Adam Jones, who was one of two Orioles starters to go hitless against Cleveland starter Justin Masterson. "I know we didn't end the first half on a good note, with the seven games lost. But sometimes you have to get away from the game to let your mind go. I think we all have the proper mindset right now. It just didn't happen."

Guthrie has not given up more than two home runs in a game this season, but he reached that mark after throwing just 11 pitches in the first inning -- giving up a solo home run to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and a two-run shot off the bat of catcher Carlos Santana.

From that point on, Baltimore trailed despite garnering opportunities to score off Masterson, who went six innings, giving up four earned runs on eight hits and striking out eight. The O's had runners on second and third with one out in the fifth but were unable to push a runner home while staring at a two-run deficit. The Indians responded with a four-run sixth to put the game out of reach.

"We were down early, but we put ourselves in a position to tie the game," Jones said. "Me and Markakis came up in the fifth. We were in position to bridge the gap, but weren't able to do it. Then they went off for some more and we put some runs on the board, but we weren't able to get that big hit. We put ourselves in that situation, though."

But there would not have been a gap to be bridged had Guthrie gotten off to a better start.

"I thought it was pretty important that we jumped ahead early," said Cleveland manager Manny Acta. "Guthrie is a guy that you do better when you can get to him early, because once he gets into a rhythm, he's very tough."

Guthire's struggles represent a microcosm of starting pitching woes in the Orioles' clubhouse. Three pitchers who were part of the Baltimore rotation this season -- Britton, Matusz and Chris Tillman -- are currently in the Minors.

"As a professional, you just understand that that's the name of the game," said reliever Michael Gonzalez, who pitched a perfect inning. "You get the job done, you stay -- if you don't, you're gone. Those three guys, first of all, are very talented and deserve to be up here. But sometimes that's just how the ball rolls.

"Everybody has a different story of how they were successful in the big leagues, and if that's what it takes, for them to go down for a few months and get it together and come back up here and get it done, then it's water under the bridge."

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