BALTIMORE — Relatively speaking — and that's the key phrase — the Rays looked better Tuesday night.
Not good enough to avoid a 5-4 loss to the Orioles that was their fourth straight, and seventh in eight games — which dropped them to a franchise-worst-matching 4-9 through 13 games — but better.
"I thought it was a great game," manager Joe Maddon said. "I was really pleased with our guys. I know some people might not understand that, but you've got to build a little bit at a time to get back to where you normally want to be. I was really pleased with the attitude, the effort. Not the results, but that'll come."
Most encouraging was some spark from the offense: better at-bats, more patience, harder contact, even increased production.
They got six hits, after all, one fewer than in the two previous games combined. They hit three actual home runs, two fewer than their season total going in. And they scored four runs in a game, their most since April 8 at Texas.
Outfielder Matt Joyce called it "kind of a momentum-builder" for the hitters.
"I think we had great at-bats all night long," he said. "Guys are starting to feel a little bit more comfortable. They're starting to swing the bats a little bit better.
"Once that starts happening, you kind of gain that confidence, you start getting into the flow of the game and wanting to win and a desire to win, and you have that confidence that you're going to win."
They weren't quite there yet Tuesday, going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position — making it 1-for-28 over their past four games — and managing only one run in five-plus innings against Baltimore starter Jake Arrieta, even though he threw 112 pitches.
"That's kind of difficult to do, score one run after seeing that many pitches in that amount of time," Maddon said.
Also, the Rays got another uneven performance from starter Roberto Hernandez, who quickly gave back the lead Desmond Jennings handed him with a leadoff homer, allowing single runs in each of the first three innings.
The score was 3-1 until the sixth, when Hernandez, having command issues, allowed the first two O's to reach and Maddon had him put on Chris Davis — who tormented the Rays in the season-opening series — to load the bases.
Hernandez struck out Matt Wieters, then got the ground ball he wanted from J.J. Hardy. Third baseman Evan Longoria made a good decision to go to the plate on the hit but made a bad throw, the run scoring on his error. Another infield bouncer off Jamey Wright made it 5-1.
After going 14 batters without a hit, the Rays made a late bid to halt the Orioles' streak of wins when leading after seven innings, now at 97.
Kelly Johnson, moved up to the No. 2 spot in what Maddon called "try-to-build-Kelly-confidence-day," led off with a homer, capping a solid night that included two walks after a 13-pitch opening at-bat, as he "made a little bit adjustment with my hands." Ben Zobrist followed with a walk, and Longoria crushed the next pitch for a two-run homer to left.
This night, that was all they got.
"It's going to come," Johnson said. "We've just got to get it going. It's never too early."