Before he went on the disabled list with a right groin strain, right-hander Bud Norris was becoming one of the Orioles' most dependable starters.
Norris had won his previous four starts, and he had a 0.92 ERA over his previous three outings.
But making his return from the DL on Wednesday night against the Washington Nationals, Norris struggled through his shortest outing of the season. He failed to get an out in the fifth inning, and Orioles pitchers gave up three homers in a 6-2 loss in front of an announced 35,575 at Camden Yards.
"It definitely was a little bit different, but I just wanted to go out there and really try and get it off my head," Norris said. "And I felt pretty good, so I just wanted to go out there and compete. That's a good team over there."
After Orioles fans flooded Nationals Park in orange Monday and waited through a flood Tuesday -- that game was postponed after a 2 1/2-hour rain delay -- the Orioles returned to Camden Yards to continue their matchup with the Nationals.
Norris, who hadn't pitched since leaving his start June 21 against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, allowed five runs -- tying a season high -- in four innings plus two batters. He allowed six hits, struck out two hitters and walked one.
"It's obviously some of it," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said about whether the time off played a factor in Norris' outing. "As much as you do side work and sim games and stuff like that, there's no substitute for the adrenaline and the challenge of facing major league hitters, especially ones as good as Washington has, so it will get better. We've seen what he's capable of."
Norris entered the night having allowed 10 homers in 14 starts, the fewest among the Orioles' five starters, but he surrendered two home runs -- solo blasts by catcher Wilson Ramos and shortstop Ian Desmond -- on Wednesday.
"Just kept waiting for him to kind of fall into a rhythm, but he never really seemed to get real comfortable. That will come," Showalter said. "That's why I was hoping to get him two starts before the break. I was hoping to get him somewhere between 80 and 90 (pitches), but Washington wouldn't cooperate. We'll see what Sunday brings."
Despite the loss, the Orioles remain 2 1/2 games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays, who lost, 8-7, to the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday.
Coming off his first career five-hit game Monday in Washington, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado had three hits, including his ninth homer of the season. But an Orioles team that boasts the second-most homers in baseball left six runners on base.
Norris fell behind, 2-0, just four batters into the game, struggling through a 26-pitch first inning.
With one out, Anthony Rendon hit a ground-rule double down the right-field line. Jayson Werth then just missed a home run by a few feet, hitting a ball near the top of the grounds crew shed in right field that stayed in the park for an RBI double.
Adam LaRoche followed with a single just over second baseman Jonathan Schoop into right field to score Werth.
"His stuff was good. He came out really nice in the bullpen, and he just had some location issues," Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph said. "It's been a while since he pitched. He looked good, stuff-wise. He just had a few balls up in the zone, and you hoped that they fouled a few of them off, but it seemed like everyone that was up they hit pretty hard. He's been great for us, and he'll continue to be good for us. We're going to need him to make this push here."
Nationals starter Doug Fister had his share of trouble early as well, needing 31 pitches to get through the first inning, but the Orioles scored just one run off him in the opening frame.
Steve Pearce and Nelson Cruz both drew walks off Fister (8-2) before Chris Davis hit a single to drive in Pearce with two outs. But J.J. Hardy flied out to left field to end the inning.
"He was pretty good," Machado said about Fister. "He sinks the ball so well, and he's got that curveball. He didn't bust it out until the second or third time around. He's got a good enough slider to hit one off the barrel. They're a really good team, and they were really on tonight."
Ramos gave the Nationals a 3-1 lead in the top of the second inning, taking a waist-high 1-2 fastball deep into the left-field stands for his third homer of the season.
The Orioles (49-41) put the leadoff man on base in each of the next two innings, but they couldn't rally.
Machado turned on a 1-0 curveball in the third inning to homer for the second consecutive game. He has four home runs in his past six games. Since returning from his five-game suspension, Machado is 12-for-21.
"Definitely," Machado said about getting comfortable at the plate. "Just trying to finally get into my groove. Like I said, just about being patient and seeing the ball. Everything is finally falling in place. Finding some holes, which is a big part and just trying to keep this going."
Norris retired six straight following Ramos' homer before Ian Desmond hit his 16th homer of the season with one out in the fourth.
Norris (7-6), who had allowed just two runs in his previous three starts over a span of 19 2/3 innings, was chased from the game two batters into the fifth after issuing a walk to No. 9 hitter Danny Espinosa and a single to Denard Span. Espinosa later scored, with the run charged to Norris, on a sacrifice fly by LaRoche.
"I felt pretty good," Norris said. "Got a little achy there at the end, but I'm happy with the results, and it's kind of out of my head now, and I can keep going from there. I'll get a couple more bullpens in and just go from there and into the break and feel good going into the second half."
Before the game, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he was considering limiting Norris on Wednesday so he could come back and start Sunday on short rest. Norris left Wednesday's game after just 71 pitches.
"That's something we've got to sit down and talk about," Norris said about starting Sunday. "I'm just going to really see how I feel tomorrow and go from there. I'm pretty happy with the results tonight that it felt so good, and I want to see how I respond tomorrow."
Trailing 5-2 in the sixth, the Orioles had runners at the corners with one out, but Rendon snagged a sharp ground ball by Joseph at third base and began an inning-ending double play. The Orioles didn't have a base runner for the rest of the night against the Nationals (49-40).
Right-hander Brad Brach, who had earned the win in each of his previous three relief appearances and had allowed just three hits over 5 2/3 innings in that span, gave up a two-out solo homer to Jason Werth in the seventh to end a 14-inning scoreless streak.
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