PITTSBURGH (AP) — Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jake Arrieta didn’t have his best stuff on Monday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The way his teammates are hitting when he’s on the mound these days, his best is hardly required.
Arrieta moved into a tie for the American League lead in wins, taking advantage of another offensive outburst as the Orioles pounded the struggling Pirates 8-3.
“I really don’t know what it is, the team, they find a way to put runs on the board when I’m on the mound,” Arrieta said. “It’s a good feeling for me. I’m not going to argue with it.”
The Orioles are averaging 6.5 runs when Arrieta (9-4) starts, a number they topped in the second inning while chasing Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton (7-4). Baltimore has scored at least seven runs 11 times this season, and Arrieta has started seven of those games.
Nick Markakis added three hits to extend his hitting streak to 11 games as Baltimore continued to light up the scoreboard when Arrieta takes the hill.
And for a night anyway, Arrieta got in on the act. He collected his first major league hit, a bloop to shallow right field that scored Mark Reynolds to cap Baltimore’s five-run first inning.
“I got an at-bat in the first, something I really didn’t expect to do,” Arrieta said. “It was a fun game to be a part of.”
The hit helped take some of the pressure off on a night when Arrieta was hardly dominant. He gave up three runs in five innings on a sticky night in which he labored through 87 pitches.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter called Arrieta’s performance “so-so,” yet it was enough to lift him into a five-way tie with for the AL lead in victories. The rest of the list includes some of the top pitchers in the game, including Detroit’s Justin Verlander and New York’s CC Sabathia.
Though his ERA is a pedestrian 4.50, Arrieta is more concerned with the scoreboard at the end of the night.
“It’s a good feeling, being on top of the board with some of the big names around the league,” he said. “I’d like to stay on pace with them. I feel like I have the stuff and ability.”
And apparently, the offense.
Baltimore handed the Pirates their fourth straight loss by pouncing on Morton, whose June swoon continued on a night in which he gave up seven runs — six earned — and eight hits in two innings. He fell to 2-2 this month with an ERA of 8.50.
His resurgence has been one of the pleasant surprises in a pleasantly surprising season for the Pirates. He endured a miserable 2010 in which he went 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA, but has revived his career thanks to an improved sinker.
It rarely worked against the Orioles, who took Morton’s favorite pitch and sprayed it all over PNC Park, which had a fair share of orange in the stands from Baltimore fans who made the relatively short trip west for the game.
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle blamed Morton’s woes on a heavy workload.
“I think it’s a stamina issue that he’s trying to fight through,” Hurdle said. “That has caused him to elevate the ball much more than he was earlier this season.”
Maybe, but Morton’s issues began well before his pitch count could get out of hand.
J.J. Hardy led off the game with an infield hit and Markakis followed a double. Both came home on a two-run single by Adam Jones and surging Derrek Lee added another RBI single before Morton managed to get an out.
“It’s nice to get an early lead like that, but more importantly we continued to build on it,” Lee said.
Morton’s misery, however, was just beginning as Robert Andino chipped in an RBI single before Arrieta got in on the act, lofting a flare into shallow right field, a run-scoring single that gave the Orioles a 5-0 lead.
The onslaught continued in the second behind an RBI double by Matt Wieters and a sacrifice fly by Mark Reynolds.
That was more than enough for Arrieta, who labored at times but was never in any real danger against the suddenly reeling Pirates.
Pittsburgh appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough last week, ripping off four straight wins to climb two games above .500 this late in the season for the first time in 12 years.
Four losses have followed, all to American League teams that have found a way to quiet Pittsburgh’s bats. The Pirates have managed just seven runs during the slide, their longest since dropping six straight from May 10-16.
The victory gave the Orioles consecutive wins for the first time in nearly two weeks as Baltimore improved to 33-37. The Orioles didn’t win their 33rd game last year until Aug. 3.
“I feel like this team has been pretty relaxed all year, we’ve just been a little bit streaky,” Lee said. “We need to find a way to play like this more often.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)