PITTSBURGH — Chris Tillman has grown used to the concept of running into early trouble and eventually working his way out of it.
The Baltimore Orioles' right-hander couldn't find the answer Wednesday night. Tillman retired just three batters as the Orioles fell 9-8 to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Tillman's first-inning ERA ballooned to 9.90 after he gave up four to begin the game then followed it up by giving up four more in the second without recording an out.
Not exactly the follow-up he was expecting after tossing a shutout in his previous start against Kansas City.
"Coming off a good one, you'd like to carry it over and get into rhythm here," Tillman said. "It was tough. I battled and tried to make adjustments, but they just weren't coming to me."
Tillman gave up eight runs, six earned, in one-plus inning, walking three and striking out one while his overall ERA sailed from 3.34 to 4.21.
"Chris has spoiled us at a high level pitching," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. "Tonight was just a tough night for him. He's struggled before early and gotten back in sync and gave us some strong innings, but it just never really came to him tonight."
Nelson Cruz hit his 14th homer of the season and drove in three runs for the Orioles, who rallied to tie the game at 8 in the top of the seventh before reliever Ryan Webb (2-1) gave it back in the bottom of the inning on Tony Sanchez's RBI-single.
Nick Markakis, Chris Davis and JJ Hardy had two hits and one RBI apiece, but Baltimore left 10 men on base as the Orioles failed to sweep their four-game interleague series with the Pirates.
"You had two early exits from starters and it became a game out of the bullpen and they pushed one across there late," Showalter said. "But our guys, we had a couple opportunities to score some more, but I can't fault the offense."
Andrew McCutchen went 3 for 4 with an RBI and his first two extra-base hits in more than two weeks for Pittsburgh, which won for only the third time in its past nine games. Starling Marte and Ike Davis had three hits and two RBIs apiece for the Pirates.
Bryan Morris (4-0) earned the victory after failing to protect an 8-6 lead. Mark Melancon worked a perfect ninth for his seventh save.
Pittsburgh began the night eight games under .500 in part because of a struggling starting staff that has hardly looked like the group that led the team to the postseason last fall.
Things didn't get much better, but the bullpen briefly recaptured its touch.
Reliever Vin Mazzaro's steady hand out of the bullpen played in stark contrast to the mess made by Pittsburgh starter Wandy Rodriguez.
The veteran left-hander has struggled with his command and his conviction all season and did little to convince manager Clint Hurdle he was ready to turn the corner despite being spotted a 4-0 first-inning lead thanks in part to a two-run triple by Marte.
The 35-year-old Rodriguez, in the final year of his contract, promptly gave the big lead away as Cruz led off the second with a blistering solo home run and added a two-run double later in the inning to put the Orioles in front.
Rodriguez's throwing error on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Tillman meant he was only charged with one earned run for his 1 2-3 innings of work, dropping his ERA from 6.84 to 6.75.
Tillman couldn't take advantage of the reprieve. Marte's two-run triple highlighted Pittsburgh's outburst in the first. Things got no better after Tillman watched his teammates erupt off Rodriguez.
Tillman failed to retire a batter in the second as the first six Pittsburgh batters reached base. Brad Brach came on in relief to get out of the inning, but not until after the Orioles trailed 8-6.
NOTES: Pirates closer Jason Grilli could return as early as Saturday. Grilli has been on the disabled list since sustaining a left oblique strain on April 20. He threw 20 pitches in a simulated game on Tuesday without incident ... Showalter said OF Nolan Reimold, still recovering from back surgery last July, will begin participating in extended spring training games but there remains no timetable for his return. ... The Orioles sent LHP Wei-Yin Chen back to Baltimore ahead of the team on Wednesday as a precaution due to concerns over weather in Pittsburgh. Chen (5-2, 3.69 ERA) is scheduled to start on Thursday against Cleveland. ... The Pirates begin a four-game series with Washington on Thursday. Edinson Volquez (1-4, 4.71) starts for the Pirates against Washington's Blake Treinen (0-1, 0.77).