OAKLAND -- The Orioles have gone most of the season piecing together a rotation, with the official announcement for Sunday's starter -- Randy Wolf -- not coming until Saturday afternoon as manager Buck Showalter continues to shuffle the deck. And with the club dealing with recent injuries to Jason Hammel and Chris Tillman, while trying to rest Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez whenever possible, 24-year-old Zach Britton had a chance Saturday to add a little stability and get Baltimore back on track.
Instead Britton turned in his second consecutive abbreviated outing, adding more question marks to a rotation trying to stay afloat and keep the Orioles in playoff contention. The A's, who have been carried by stout starting pitching in their own surprising run, capitalized on Britton's command issues and used a five-run third inning to hand Baltimore a 5-2 loss.
The defeat, in front of 20,342 at Oakland Coliseum, drops the Orioles out of first place in the American League East and gives the A's a 5-3 series edge, which could have potential playoff implications. Should the A's -- who are leading in the AL Wild Card race -- and Orioles tie for a Wild Card spot, the game would be in Oakland, where Baltimore has lost 16 of its last 18 games and is 8-29 since 2003.
"Every out is important, all 27 outs in a game, especially at this point in time," center fielder Adam Jones said of the Orioles' defeat, which marked the club's first back-to-back losses since Aug. 16-17. "We're playing good baseball. We've just got to do what got us here. No one in this clubhouse is down. Last two days, we've been beat. I don't think we've beaten ourselves."
Faced with a weak-hitting A's lineup that has had trouble facing left-handed starters this season, Britton struggled through a 38-pitch third inning that erased an early two-run Orioles lead and paved the way for his early exit.
"It's an easy recipe for success. Don't walk guys and I have success," said Britton, who has issued nine walks over his last two starts spanning 7 1/3 innings. "Right now it's just a small adjustment with my front side. It's funny, it's completely obvious because [Nick] Markakis brought it up to me in the dugout [and was] like, 'Hey you are flying open a little bit.' And it's such an easy fix, but when you are out there in a situation you tend to overthink it."
Britton, who had a career-high four-game win streak snapped with his last start, again struggled with his command and Oakland sent 10 batters to the plate in a third inning that started with Stephen Drew's solo homer. Britton then issued a one-out walk to Coco Crisp and hit Jonny Gomes with a pitch to give the A's a pair of baserunners, and Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes delivered RBI singles to put Oakland out in front. Chris Carter belted a double to deep right-field to push the A's lead to three.
"It's not as good as he's capable of or we need him to be," manager Buck Showalter said of Britton, who is 1-2 with a 7.48 ERA in four starts against Oakland. "So we'll move on. It's not easy to do what we are asking [him] to do, but we got to get it done. And tonight wasn't one of those nights. He's pitched some good games for us, too."
Britton had a four-start stretch in which he pitched to a 0.95 ERA before dropping his last two games and allowing 10 earned runs over 7 1/3 innings. On Saturday, he was charged with four walks, a hit batter and a wild pitch over his four innings, exiting with a 5-2 deficit after 86 pitches.
A's starter Jarrod Parker allowed a pair of early runs but held firm after that, with Oakland playing exceptional defense behind him to keep the Orioles from garnering any momentum. Mark Reynolds doubled in Adam Jones in the second inning and Jones was called out at the plate trying to score on Davis' double in the fourth. Cespedes made a great relay throw to Drew, who pivoted and fired home in time to get Jones for the first of several Oakland web gems.
"I kind of could tell looking back that he was going to send him," Drew said of third-base coach DeMarlo Hale waving around Jones. "So, I knew right away that he was going home. I thought we had a good shot if we could just make that perfect relay and we did."
Jones was upset at himself for slowing up right before getting to third base, a play he chided himself on after the game.
"That's something I never do," Jones said. "I score on the balls down the line, I score on most doubles, because that's just how it works. ... I'm still frustrated about it right now, because having a chance at the score 5-3 with no outs, man on second base, it changed the dynamics of the game, rather than 5-2 with a man on second.
"Honestly, there is no reason why, no excuse why. It's one of those things you can't explain, it just happens on the field."
Orioles left fielder Nate McLouth hit his third homer of the year one out into the third inning for the only other run off Parker, who went seven innings and scattered seven hits.
O's rookie Steve Johnson followed Britton and tossed three scoreless innings, working out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh and providing a bright spot in the loss. Johnson, who was an option to start Sunday's game, hasn't allowed a run in his last four outings spanning 8 1/3 innings.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.