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Cano launches a solo shot to center field

BALTIMORE -- The Yankees, or this depleted version of them, limped to the halfway point of their season still in striking distance but in obvious need of reinforcements. They're banking on a few smart tweaks and timely hits to keep them in striking distance.

For the moment, trying to roll with the in-house "B" squad has not yielded pretty results of late. The Orioles slugged three solo homers and posted a 4-2 victory on Sunday at Camden Yards, completing a series sweep and sending the Yankees to their fifth straight loss.

"Nobody likes to lose, so it's frustrating," said Yankees designated hitter Travis Hafner. "We know that we should be swinging the bats better. I think the key is to stay positive. We need those big hits that I think we were getting early in the year. Those make a big difference."

Hiroki Kuroda served up all three of the homers, taking the loss as the skidding Yankees (42-39) have dropped 21 of their last 33 contests to fall into fourth place in the American League East, now a season-high 6 1/2 games out of the division lead.

They sat 12 games over .500 on May 25, a date that seems to have faded in the rearview mirror, but manager Joe Girardi has been encouraged by some better at-bats of late. He struck a philosophical note and expressed optimism that his roster can still turn it around.

"I know it's important and I understand, but this is a game," Girardi said. "There are a lot of things that go on in life that are struggles that you go through, and you have to figure out how to go through them.

"This is like life. Everything is not going to be easy, and you find ways to get through it. And I'm not going to get frustrated, and I'm going to stick up for them."

Baltimore's blasts came in each of the first three innings, and even solo homers -- hit by Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Nate McLouth, respectively -- seem extra damaging with the Yankees' punchless offense of late.

"In this ballpark, a hitters' ballpark, if I was able to stop those three homers and then not give up the fourth run, maybe the momentum would shift and the offense would pick me up, but it didn't happen," Kuroda said through an interpreter.

The Yankees managed two runs and five hits over six innings against Baltimore starter Chris Tillman, though New York threatened against the right-hander and settled for one run in leaving the bases loaded in the second inning.

In that frame, Tillman's control was erratic as he allowed a two-out single to Chris Stewart and walked David Adams to load the bases before Brett Gardner forced home a run with a walk. But Ichiro Suzuki let Tillman off the hook when he popped out, stranding three men.

"We're getting ourselves in run-scoring situations, we're just not scoring runs," Stewart said. "If we keep doing that, keep trying to get those good at-bats, hopefully things will start to fall in there and we'll find some holes with runners on base and start scoring some runs."

Robinson Cano delivered his first home run since June 13, a span of 15 games, with a solo blast off Tillman in the sixth. But that was all the support the Yankees mustered for Kuroda, who scattered seven hits while walking none and striking out seven.

"We knew it was going to be tough to win that third game tonight," O's manager Buck Showalter said. "Kuroda found his step about the third inning. His split really was a challenge for us. He's one of the better pitchers in the league."

Darren O'Day pitched out of two-on, one-out trouble in the seventh, getting Gardner to fly out and Ichiro to foul out, and the Orioles (47-36) added an insurance run in the seventh as Kuroda opened by permitting two hits before exiting.

Boone Logan came on and got the first out with runners at second and third bases, but Brian Roberts lifted a shallow sacrifice fly to center field as Gardner threw home on three hops, allowing Matt Wieters to slide home safely.

"We didn't have a lot of chances," Girardi said. "We had the bases loaded and we got one run in that [second] inning. We had first and second on O'Day with one out and we didn't score then. We just didn't have a lot of chances."

Girardi said that he refuses to believe his roster, lacking its usual assortment of All-Stars, just may not have the firepower to keep pace in the division race. He pointed to his 2006 experience with a young, overachieving Marlins club as proof of that.

"I'll never think that way," Girardi said. "I didn't think that way when I took over a bunch of young kids in Miami, and I'll never think that way."

So the Yankees have little choice but to keep scribbling the same names onto the lineup card. The lineup may seem better suited for a split-squad Spring Training game, but they still believe that on any given day, it has the potential to break out and win.

"I think if you were to look at our ballclub at the beginning of the season and we would be where we are right now, you would take it with the injuries that we've had," Vernon Wells said. "We just have to get through this period."

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