BALTIMORE — The progress still should be charted cautiously, and with a notation for the level of opposition from the back end of the Baltimore rotation.
But the Rays' sputtering offense showed a few more signs of improvement in Wednesday's 6-2 win over the Orioles.
They reached double digits in hits and crossed the four-run threshold for the first time in more than 10 days. They got their first hit with a runner in scoring position and two outs in more than a week. And they shook hands after the game — except for manager Joe Maddon, who had been ejected — for the first time since the previous Wednesday, snapping a four-game skid.
"I thought we took it to another level, just by more involvement up and down (the lineup)," Maddon said. "We've been relying upon two or three guys primarily. … We have to spread it up and down the lineup more consistently and evenly, and as we do that, those four and five runs are going to pop up every night, and our pitching should be able to keep us in the winning column."
Tuesday seemed like a breakthrough for Kelly Johnson, who carried that over with a first-inning homer. Wednesday's emergences — in the relative obscurity of a gathering of 13,591 at Camden Yards — included James Loney, who had three hits and a walk and knocked in three runs; Shelley Duncan, who homered and was on base twice more; and struggling shortstop Yunel Escobar, who hit the ball harder, walked and knocked in a run with a two-out single.
"We were sitting there before the game and MLB Network was on and they were kind of making fun of everybody outside of (Ben Zobrist) and Evan (Longoria)," Duncan said. "So I think we stepped it up a little bit."
Whatever the motivation, Maddon will take the results, as the integration of the new players has been one of the many issues in their now 5-9 start.
"We need to get them more active or involved," Maddon said. "They just need some confidence. They need some stuff to fall. A couple wins under our belt and all of a sudden they'll get into a nice little groove here and things will start turning out like they're supposed to."
Strong pitching is the necessary complement, and they got that as well.
Matt Moore's run at perfection ended, as he allowed his first run of the season when Manny Machado scored on Adam Jones' third-inning homer, which the umps needed video review to confirm. But Moore did well enough to improve to 3-0, working into the seventh. Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney finished, though Rodney — pitching for the first time since April 10 — didn't shoot an arrow, saying it was reserved for save situations.
Maddon said Moore's strong pitching is what "permitted" them to win.
But it's the offense — which Maddon envisions becoming a "swarming" attack, line-drive style, similar to the 2002 championship Angels team he was a coach on — that matters most right now.
"I think it's one of those nights that hopefully jump-starts some more and it just keeps snowballing,'' Johnson said. "Obviously hitting's contagious, and it was nice to look up there and see double-digit hits, to score some runs and come out on top.''
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]ay.com.