BALTIMORE -- With the Blue Jays' season hitting a new low on Saturday night, John Farrell attempted to send a message to his struggling team.
Toronto's manager was visibly upset about his club's lacklustre level of play and had no issues with voicing his concerns. The injury woes are out of the Blue Jays' control, but effort and focus clearly aren't.
A night that should have been about the long-awaited return of Brandon Morrow was instead somewhat overshadowed by a costly Yunel Escobar error and another injury to slugger Jose Bautista in an 8-2 loss to the Orioles.
"We didn't execute, and we've got to do better," Farrell said after his club's seventh consecutive loss. "I've got to do better, we have to coach better, we have to play better. That was a sloppy game tonight and that's something we can't afford. Defense is something that we have the ability to take control over. We were sloppy."
The Blue Jays' defense in Baltimore was questionable at best, but Morrow was anything but. Morrow, who was making his first appearance since June 11, allowed four runs -- but just two earned -- on six hits and one walk. He also struck out seven, while throwing 56 of his 88 pitches for strikes in 4 2/3 innings.
It was an all-around encouraging night for Toronto's No. 1 pitcher. He consistently threw his fastball in the upper 90s, while often hitting 97 mph on the radar gun. The sharpness to his fastball and quality of his secondary pitches led to some much-needed strikeouts with runners on base to keep the Blue Jays within striking distance early on.
"I felt strong and the ball was coming out good," Morrow said. "I found my slider a little bit later into the second and third innings, it was there when I needed it. I was pretty good command-wise with my fastball as well."
As expected, there were also a few bumps along the way for Morrow, but not all were his own doing. In the third inning, Morrow had runners on first and second with nobody out, but got Nate McLouth to pop up a sacrifice bunt attempt. Baltimore's Adam Jones then hit what should have been an inning-ending double play ball, but the ball went past Escobar leading to a two-run inning.
In the fourth, Morrow had runners on second and third with nobody out when he struck out McLouth on a nasty 90 mph slider. Morrow then got ahead of Jones 0-2, but Baltimore's center fielder fought off a tough slider and muscled a bloop single into left which scored another two runs.
Morrow faced one more batter before departing the game. He showed no ill effects from the strained oblique muscle that kept him out of action for more than two months. He has now struck out 74 batters in 82 1/3 innings this season.
"Today was a little touch better," Morrow said of his performance compared to recent rehab outings. "It comes with the adrenaline, the whole surroundings and everything else. It's hard to get up for those games sometimes, especially when you're working on stuff, those are kind of like Spring Training games if you think about it that way. It was there when I needed it tonight, felt strong, kept the ball down and like I said I had good fastball command."
The news wasn't all good for Blue Jays players who recently returned from a prolonged absence. Bautista was forced to depart in the third inning after re-aggravating his left wrist injury. The 31-year-old returned on Friday after an absence of more than a month, but suffered another setback at Camden Yards.
Bautista walked in his lone plate appearance on Saturday night. He would later score as Edwin Encarnacion recorded his 34th homer of the year on a deep shot over the wall in left field and was placed on the 15-day disabled list after the game.
Encarnacion's homer was all the offense Toronto could generate against right-hander Steve Johnson, who allowed two runs on four hits, while striking out seven in six innings.
"We're fortunate they made a couple errors that aided us, but we took advantage of that afterward," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We got down 2-0 and nobody panicked, most of all Steve, and settled in.
"We knew coming in Morrow was going to be a challenge. He's got electric stuff and you saw that early. He probably had an 80-90 pitch limit coming off [the DL], but you look at his hits to innings and strikeouts and everything, you can tell why they like him so much and why they missed him with the oblique issue he had."
The Blue Jays now find themselves 14 games below .500 for the first time since Sept. 25, 2009. Since July 29, their record sits at 5-21, and they are 13 games back of the American League Wild Card leaders.
It has been a frustrating run, made even worse by the seemingly endless string of injuries that seem to be plaguing the club.
"It has been non-stop," Morrow said. "It has been hard to fathom really, kind of everything that could go wrong, has. We lost almost our whole rotation and then guys throughout. It seems like every week, every series, someone is getting DL'd or having to sit out a few days. It has been really tough on everybody."