Burnett goes seven, but 'pen falters

Burnett goes seven, but 'pen falters

BALTIMORE -- One rally set another in motion Friday night, as the Toronto Blue Jays closed ranks in support around a suddenly embattled bullpen that failed to protect a lead for a second straight game.

If the trickle-down effect of losing closer B.J. Ryan to a left elbow strain wasn't already evident, it became apparent when Toronto relievers couldn't hold a two-run lead turned over to them by A.J. Burnett after seven innings.

Nick Markakis singled through a drawn-in infield in the ninth inning to give the Orioles a 5-4 victory as the Blue Jays lost their third straight in the opener of a seven-game road trip. But the damage was done an inning before, when Baltimore erased a two-run deficit.

"We're putting a lot of heat on some kids that didn't expect to be pitching this year," said a frustrated manager John Gibbons. "You know what? It may take some time. The worst thing that can happen is they lose confidence. We're calling on them to do a lot."

The elbow injury that will sideline Ryan for four to six weeks has jumbled the Blue Jays bullpen. Setup men are now closing, middle relievers are now pitching in more crucial setup situations and people are being force-fed while adjusting to new roles.

That was the scenario when Gibbons called for Shaun Marcum in the eighth after Burnett had limited the Orioles to two runs on three hits and five damage-free walks. Marcum, who took the loss Thursday against Boston at Rogers Centre, wasn't being given a chance to redeem himself, as Gibbons was playing a hunch based on the numbers that dictate managerial moves.

Though Marcum had a career 8.25 ERA versus Baltimore -- and an unsightly 15.19 mark in two appearances at Camden Yards -- he'd had success against Melvin Mora and Markakis, the first two hitters Marcum faced. Mora, 0-for-5 against Marcum, struck out before Markakis, who was 1-for-4 against the right-hander, bled a single into right field.

That left Marcum to face Miguel Tejada, who improved to 4-for-7 against him by doubling to right field. Marcum exited in favor of Casey Janssen, but the harm was already done.

"[Marcum] can pitch," Gibbons said. "You can't jump ship every time we get young kids struggling."

"Just a couple of bad pitches," Marcum said. "The one to Markakis was a little up. The one to Tejada wasn't actually that bad of a pitch. He just put wood on it. He's a good hitter, so you have to tip your hat to him."

Janssen got Aubrey Huff to hit a sacrifice fly to center, cutting the lead to a run. Kevin Millar followed by fisting a game-tying single to short left field.

"Those guys were supposed to be the guys who pitch the middle innings for us this year. That's not the case right now," Gibbons said. "But you know what? They're making good pitches. They're competing. We're snakebit right now."

Burnett echoed Gibbons' sentiments, saying that Blue Jays relievers have to shake off a couple of forgettable days if they're going to hold the fort until Ryan returns.

"It's tough. It's something that these young guys, they're going to have to learn to deal with that," Burnett said. "They're going to get the ball tomorrow and they'll have to get it done tomorrow. They all deserve to be here or they wouldn't be here. They just have to know that it's a tough night, tomorrow's a new game and it's over with. They do that and they're going to do fine."

Marcum softly insisted he hasn't lost faith in himself.

"I'm still confident," he said. "My job is to go out there and throw strikes and I've just got to get back to doing that. You know, keeping the ball down in the zone. Just got to get back to doing that."

The ninth inning gave the bullpen one more opportunity to implode. Corey Patterson led off the ninth against Victor Zambrano (0-1) with a single to right. Paul Bako's sacrifice moved Patterson to second and Brian Roberts was walked intentionally. Mora drew a walk to load the bases before Markakis singled past second baseman Aaron Hill, who was playing just in front of the infield grass in hopes that a ground ball would produce a play at the plate.

"Go ahead, say, 'Fire Gibbons. He's the wrong guy for the job,' " Gibbons said in a self-deprecating tone. "It's tough. We're in it every day. We're in a position to win. It's just not happening."

Chris Ray (2-1) earned the victory with a scoreless ninth inning.

Pinch-hitter Vernon Wells had put the Blue Jays ahead 4-2 in the seventh, slapping a bases-loaded two run single off John Parrish after Toronto chased Daniel Cabrera.

A two-run second inning gave Burnett an early lead. Matt Stairs singled with one out and stole second when no one covered -- his first steal since May 19, 2005. After Aaron Hill struck out, Adam Lind delivered an RBI single to left, then scored on Royce Clayton's double into the right-field corner.

Burnett cruised through the first three innings without allowing a hit, but the Orioles tied the game in the fourth. Roberts led off with a single and swiped second and third before Mora homered to left on a 3-2 pitch.

Cabrera gave up four runs on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings. He walked two and struck out seven.

"It's tough because it's back-to-back nights for us," Wells said. "That happens. Hopefully, we'll get these out of the way and take our lumps early."

Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.