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CLE@BAL: Hardy homers to put the O's on the board

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles' slump is only getting worse, and the pressure is starting build.

Poor hitting has been putting pressure on the pitchers, and over the last three days, bad pitching has been putting even more pressure back on the hitters.

"You get in these funks," first baseman Mark Reynolds said. "When things are going good, everybody seems to pick up on the energy of it, and when things are going bad it snowballs the other way. Everyone in here is frustrated."

Starter Wei-Yin Chen struggled and the O's bats again failed to capitalize on their opportunities in a 7-2 loss to the Indians in the opener of a four-game set on Thursday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The Orioles have now lost seven of their last nine and haven't scored more than three runs since June 16.

"We need to score some runs," shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "Anytime our offense isn't scoring runs, it puts more pressure on [the pitchers], knowing they've got to go out there and throw zeros."

The O's starters haven't been able to respond to that pressure over the last three days, as Brian Matusz, Jason Hammel and Chen have pitched to an 11.66 ERA.

Those struggles have created nearly insurmountable deficits for an offense that is hitting .184 in the past 10 games, including .058 with runners in scoring position.

"Every club this year has gone through periods similar, but it doesn't make it any more palatable for us," manager Buck Showalter said. "Nothing worth attaining comes easy. You're going to have some trials and some challenges, and it's about how you respond to them."

A night after Hammel allowed a career-high eight earned runs, Chen allowed a career-high six on six hits in 6 1/3 innings. The lefty seemed to struggle with his command, walking three batters, hitting another and making a critical mistake to Johnny Damon that turned into a three-run home run.

"I didn't do my job, period," Chen said through an interpreter. "Everything [was] out of control and everything just went south. That's it."

Chen threw only 57 of his 98 pitches for strikes. He attempted only three of his looping curves and missed the zone with each, hitting Shin-Soo Choo with a wild offering in the third inning.

"Every day, you've got a different feel for your pitches," Chen said. "Today, I just didn't feel it."

In the second, Chen fell behind the first two batters, 3-0, before allowing a single and a walk. After Shelley Duncan popped out to first, Chen missed up with fastball that was right down the middle. The pitch was an easy target for Damon, who belted it to right-center to give the Indians a 3-0 lead.

Chen gave up another homer in the fifth, when Choo took an outside fastball and hit it the other way, into the stands in left.

The Orioles were still in range until the sixth, when the Indians tacked on three more.

Chen started the frame and allowed a one-out double to Lou Marson. After giving up a walk to Choo, Chen was pulled for Luis Ayala.

Ayala's third pitch put the Orioles in dire straits, as Asdrubal Cabrera crushed it to right to increase the O's deficit to 7-2.

Although the deficit was only five, the crowd of 17,676 had fallen silent, seemingly sensing that the Orioles' recent struggles made a comeback highly improbable.

Showalter could see how the burden of the offense's struggles was on the mind of the pitching staff, and how recent shortcomings on the mound made the opposite true, as well.

"It's human nature," Showalter said. "Guys, they pay attention. They understand the ebbs and flows to what's going on in the season. You want something too much sometimes, if there's such a thing. That adds a little pressure to it."

The Orioles' bats had opportunities to chip away at the lead, putting runners in scoring position in the first, third, fourth and sixth innings. But the O's went 1-for-5 in those situations and failed to hit a ball out of the infield, coming away without any runs.

Reynolds, who was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, stranded men at first and third with a strikeout in the fourth before leaving Wilson Betemit at second with a weak groundout to end the sixth.

"I had a bunch of chances tonight and just couldn't get it done," Reynolds said. "You have to get hits with runners in scoring position, and we haven't been doing that."

Over the last 10 games, the Orioles are 3-for-52 with runners in scoring position, a slump that only grows more difficult to break with every out.

"It's more mental, and the more we think about it, the more it's brought up that we're struggling, it works more as a negative than anything," said J.J. Hardy, who plated the O's only runs with a two-run blast in the fifth. "We have to relax and take it as any other at-bat. Pressure's more on that pitcher in that situation, anyway."

The Orioles have already notched seven wins when trailing after seven innings this season, but went quietly on Thursday, going down in order in the seventh, eighth and ninth.

"Right now, we're not doing anything at all, really," Reynolds said. "Hopefully we'll snap out of it and get the good snowball rolling."

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