KANSAS CITY -- Orioles starter Jason Hammel wanted to wipe the slate clean following a rough start that included a 5.24 ERA through his first 19 games.
And while it wasn't a dominant outing by any means, the 30-year-old did consider Tuesday's game a step in the right direction. While Hammel limited the damage, allowing three runs as the Royals went 2-for-13 against him with runners in scoring position, the Orioles couldn't muster any offense off Royals starter Bruce Chen, then fell just short with a ninth-inning rally in a 3-2 loss at Kauffman Stadium.
The defeat snapped a five-game winning streak and was just the second in the last 10 games for a Baltimore club that had come storming out of the All-Star break.
"Trust me, we wish we could take some runs from yesterday's [9-2 win] and add them to this game and give Hammel a little run support, but we were unable to do that," said Adam Jones, who brought the Orioles within a run with a ninth-inning RBI triple. "He never makes excuses and he always goes to battle for us. He put us in a great position to win the game."
Jones was the potential tying run, 90 feet away with nobody out against Royals All-Star closer Greg Holland, but he never scored. Nick Markakis singled off Holland to start the frame, giving the Orioles their first hit since the third inning, and Jones drove him in to make it 3-2, shooting a ball into the left-center field gap.
But Holland struck out Chris Davis and got J.J. Hardy to ground out, bring up rookie Henry Urrutia, who bounced a ball to first base to end the game.
"I'm going to pitch Hardy tough and if I fall behind we're basically going to put him on and take my chances on a double play," said Holland, who surrendered his first run since June 30. "That was my thought process."
"It's not always going to be pretty and tonight was one of those ugly ones," said Hammel, who allowed 13 baserunners over six innings and started his postgame press conference by quipping: "You call it a battle. I call it a war."
"We still had a chance to win," Hammel said. "So it's disappointing we lost, but it was a good ballgame."
Hammel constantly pitched out of jams, starting the game off with a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases. He got cleanup hitter Billy Butler to ground into a double play, scoring one run, and struck out Mike Moustakas to escape any further trouble. It was a constant trend, with the Royals getting three singles and another run in the second and starting the third with a pair of hits and Moustakas' RBI double.
"It was a very professional, competitive outing," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Hammel's effort.
"[Fastball command is] still a challenge for him, but he's a guy who works real hard in his work day. He can really impress you on his work day, he just hasn't been as consistent in the game as he's capable of. I think once he gets a couple good games under his belt, he might get back to the level he's spoiled us at. A lot of pitchers in the Major Leagues would have liked to have had the outing he had tonight."
Hammel didn't allow a run after the third, retiring seven of eight at one point, and still turned in the team's ninth quality start in 10 games.
"I did some good things tonight, so I'm not going to walk away from this sad or disappointed," said Hammel, who was followed by 1 2/3 scoreless innings from reliever T.J. McFarland. "You learn something new every night and it's a matter of not beating yourself up too much and working on the things you can control. Tonight I was able to get out of some big innings for us."
But there's another level there for Hammel, who went 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 20 starts last season.
"Oh definitely," Hammel said. "I don't really know how to expand on that. I know it's there, it's just not happening right now."
After totaling double-digit hits in their previous three games, an Orioles lineup that leads the Majors in home runs couldn't get anything going off Chen.
"It's a true testament to how he's maintained and stayed around as long as he has. He's not tricking you because he can't blow it by anybody. He just makes his pitches," Jones said. "I was sitting out in center field wondering how we only had three hits. How? But he makes his pitches and you have to respect that."
Chen, who made his second start since returning to the rotation from long relief, held Baltimore to three hits, with Manny Machado's one-out homer in the third the team's only score until the ninth. Chen didn't issue a walk and struck out four, improving to 4-0 with a 1.97 ERA on the season.
"It's not necessarily frustrating because you know what he's going to do," Showalter said of Chen. "He's been doing it for several years. He had a really good outing last time and he followed the script. If you can command a lot of different pitches from a lot of different looks, you can have a lot of success here."
The O's got a one-out baserunner off reliever Kelvin Herrera in the seventh when Davis reached on Moustakas' throwing error and advanced to second on a wild pitch. But Hardy grounded out and Urrutia struck out to keep the deficit at 3-1.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.