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MIN@BAL: Hardy's two-run shot puts the O's up early

BALTIMORE -- If the Orioles are going to follow up on the success of 2012, they are going to have to get better starting pitching and find a way to win close games at home.

Instead, the O's -- fresh off a series win at the Rays -- dropped two of three to Minnesota, including Sunday's 4-3 defeat that puts them at 3-3 as they board a plane for a road trip to division rivals Boston and New York.

"Obviously, you want to win series, that's how you get deeper into the year with a good chance of playing in October," said starter Jason Hammel, who struggled with fastball command and had a key defense gaffe behind him in a 6 2/3-inning outing.

"Last year, we started off 3-0 and then we lost three straight to the Yankees. So it's not new territory. We're right where we need to be, playing tight ballgames, as usual. Boston's going to be ready for us when we get there. It's a series loss, but there's still plenty of baseball left."

Hammel didn't look particularly sharp on Sunday, allowing four earned runs on four hits and three walks with two hit batters in an uncharacteristically wild 88-pitch outing. But his outing, which marked the fourth time in five games the Orioles have failed to record a quality start, wasn't helped by a third-inning flub that allowed a pair of runs to score.

There were several early defensive miscues on both sides, with a crowd of 34,431 at Camden Yards enjoying a cloudless sky that made it difficult to track balls in the air. After Hammel, who cruised through two innings, allowed a pair of walks and a hit-by-pitch to load the bases with two outs, Justin Morneau hit a routine fly ball. But it dropped in between Adam Jones and Nolan Reimold, in a head-scratching play that allowed the Twins to close the O's lead to 3-2.

"It went in the sun and I missed it," Jones said of the play, in which he pointed at Reimold for assistance at the last second. "Could have got around it better. It was a mistake. Cost us a couple runs. Hammel is out there giving his heart out and a play like that you've got to make it, pretty much."

"I assumed [Jones] had it," said Reimold, who left the game in the seventh with right hamstring tightness. "By the time he said he needed help, it was a little bit too late. I tried to sprint over and get it, but it was a little bit too late."

Hammel didn't let that inning get out of hand, but the 30-year-old right-hander, who said his stuff was a little better on Sunday than his Opening Day start against the Rays, couldn't shut the door in the seventh and allowed another pair of runs. After plunking Trevor Plouffe and giving up a single, the Twins bunted the pair up a base and used a sacrifice fly and Aaron Hicks' single to take the lead.

"He gave a real good chance to win today," manager Buck Showalter said of Hammel, who had Morneau's ball charged as a two-run double. "He could have easily had six or seven shutout innings, but it didn't happen. That's part of it."

Former Twin J.J. Hardy got Baltimore on the board with a two-run homer in the second. The O's, who dropped to 0-3 in one-run games, added a third run on Nick Markakis' two-out single but couldn't deliver the knockout blow on Twins lefty Pedro Herndandez, who was making his second career start. Hernandez, starting with Cole De Vries on the disabled list, lasted five innings, as the Orioles offense -- which has carried the team in the season's first week -- was unable to break things open after the three-run third.

Hernandez exited after five innings in favor of Anthony Swarzak, who went 1 1/3 scoreless innings for the win. The Orioles got a pair of one-out hits in the seventh from Alexi Casilla and Markakis, but Manny Machado popped out and red-hot Chris Davis grounded out. Davis had his streak of five straight games with an RBI to start the season -- one short of tying a club record -- snapped after going 0-for-4.

The Orioles will now head to Boston for the Red Sox home opener.

"It's important," Jones said of picking it up in Boston. "You've seen the last couple days, you look on the scoreboard today. They had 13 runs and they put them up quick, too. I think they are swinging the bats. We've got to go out there -- we have got [Wei-Yin] Chen throwing tomorrow, I believe -- and spoil their Opening Day.

"The more people, the more you want to shut them up. That's how I look at it. I don't care, they can stand up the whole game. They do anyway. But when you can silence 40,000 people, it's pretty cool."

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