BALTIMORE — Cole Hamels could have easily dismissed the results, attributing the lackluster numbers in his Atlanta Braves debut to rustiness after an unaccustomed layoff.
Instead, the 36-year-old left-hander deemed his performance to be well below his own high expectations.
Pitching for the first time since last September, Hamels allowed three runs to the Baltimore Orioles before reaching his predetermined pitch count in the fourth inning of a 5-1 loss Wednesday night.
"It's just, for me it's unacceptable. I've got to be better," Hamels said.
Hamels signed a one-year contract with Atlanta in December and was expected to be a major contributor in the rotation. He arrived at spring training with a sore shoulder, though, and developed triceps tendinitis during summer camp before being placed on the 45-day injured list on the eve of the season opener.
Adding to Hamels' frustration was that he had made at least 20 starts in each of his previous 14 seasons in Major League Baseball. And so, after enduring the long, unfamiliar process of rehabilitating a significant injury, Hamels came off the IL on Wednesday and finally got to work.
The four-time All-Star gave up a first-inning single and retired the side in order in the second before running into trouble in the third. Austin Hays hit a leadoff double and Hamels got an 0-2 count on No. 9 hitter Andrew Velazquez before issuing a walk. Hanser Alberto followed with an RBI double, José Iglesias hit a run-scoring grounder and Ryan Mountcastle delivered a sacrifice fly for a 3-0 lead.
After finally getting the third out, Hamels slumped his shoulders and took about 10 steps toward the dugout. He then spun around and walked back to the mound to pick up his rosin bag, a habit that probably will take some getting used to for a pitcher not yet accustomed to baseball's new set of rules during the pandemic.
Hamels returned to get one out in the fourth before being removed after his 52nd pitch. Hours earlier, manager Brian Snitker said he would allow him to throw from 50 to 55 pitches.
"Looks like he may have gotten a little tired," Snitker said afterward. "I didn't expect him to be perfect first time out."
Neither did Hamels (0-1), but he sure wasn't satisfied with giving up three runs, three hits and a walk.
"A three-spot is definitely not the type of number you want to put up," he said. "This is kind of the part where no matter if it is the beginning of what I'm trying to do, I've obviously done this for a long time and I need to be able to put up zeros."
What really counts, though, is that Hamels is back in action for a team that expects to be playing well into October.
"He's been through a lot since we started in February," Snitker said before the game. "It will be nice to have him on our side."
Baltimore rookie Keegan Akin struck out nine batters in five scoreless innings to earn his first MLB victory and help the Orioles win the deciding matchup of a three-game set against the National League East Division leaders.
The Braves got only six hits — all of them singles — and their lone run scored on a balk. Atlanta hasn't won a series in Baltimore since 2004, although the teams face off infrequently as interleague foes.
Akin (1-1) allowed three hits and a walk in his fourth career start. In his previous outing, the lefty didn't make it out of the first inning of a 10-1 loss to the Yankees.
In this one, he notched six straight strikeouts at one point and allowed only one runner past first base.
"It felt good," Akin said. "It was real good for the confidence after that last start."
Said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde of Akin: "That's a real good lineup to go five innings scoreless. To do what he did was impressive."
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman drew a first-inning walk to extend his streak of reaching base to 32 games, the longest run in the majors this season and the second-longest stretch of his MLB career. In addition, Freeman has hit in 11 straight games and 29 of the past 30.
The Braves are off Thursday, but left-hander Max Fried (back spasms) will return from a short stint on the IL to start against the Mets on Friday, the opener of a three-game series between the division rivals. Fried (6-0, 1.98 ERA) said his back locked up during a start on Sept. 5.
"I feel real good now," he said Wednesday. "I'm ready to get back."