BALTIMORE The pitching coach has offered suggestions for Johnny Cueto's delivery and fed him self-help mantras for his mind. The manager has altered the team's rotation to fit his preferences. The players have welcomed him with their arms open, trying to treat Cueto as something more than a hired gun, or, in the case of Sunday's 8-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, a dreadlocked anchor dragging down their ship.

Yet the Royals have not reached Cueto and have not fixed Cueto, not across a five-start stretch of misery that has moved from unfortunate to concerning to outright alarming. The latest evidence of Cueto's troubles resounded off the echoing bats of the Orioles, who bashed four home runs and scored eight runs in 6 1/3 innings against Cueto at Camden Yards. One of those runs was unearned, which will only really matter when Cueto attempts to market himself as a free agent this winter.

The barrage started early and never really ceased. Adam Jones wounded Cueto with a three-run homer in the first inning. Jonathan Schoop hit a pair of solo shots. A fifth-inning homer by slugger Chris Davis rounded out the damage. Cueto had not given up four homers in a game since Aug. 21, 2010.

In the clubhouse and in the baseball operations department of the Royals, alarm bells must ring about Cueto. The club acquired him before the July 31 trade deadline in order to complete their rotation. Eight weeks into his tenure as a Royal, Cueto serves as perhaps the team's greatest concern.

In his last five outings, Cueto has given up 30 runs (two unearned) in 26 1/3 innings. His ERA resides in the cloud-scraping echelon of 9.57. He has lost five decisions in a row. His pitches lack bite. To his coaches, his body lacks confidence.

Kansas City (84-58) lost another series, their third in a row, as their lead in the race for home-field advantage over Toronto has fallen to 2 { games. Before this skid, the Royals had lost back-to-back series just once all season.

On Sunday, the offense disappeared after a brief second-inning flurry against Orioles southpaw Wei-Yin Chen. But the scrutiny belongs on Cueto, who has shriveled beneath the weight of expectations with Kansas City.

In his pregame session with reporters, Yost acknowledged the team's zeal for Cueto to rebound, but he declined to place special significance on this outing, even though the Royals juggled their rotation so Cueto could, at his preference, pitch on Sunday evening rather than Saturday afternoon.

"I'm not getting that dramatic about it," Yost said. "Yeah, we would like to get him going, but if he doesn't, we've got time to get him going. We think we can get him going."

During the week, pitching coach Dave Eiland counseled Cueto on adjustments to both his delivery and his mentality. The two spheres intertwine. Eiland suggested Cueto lost confidence in the wake of his struggles, which caused him to attempt to manipulate the movement of the baseball with excessive movement in his delivery.

The unnecessary exertion wrought several unfortunate consequences. Cueto lost command of his fastball. His offspeed pitches hung over the plate. In addition, Cueto may have been tipping his hand to opposing hitters by exposing the baseball early in his delivery.

As the hitters teed off, Cueto allowed his shoulders to slump and his pace on the mound to slacken. Eiland showed him a split-screen with video from his first four starts as a Royal, when he allowed six runs in 30 innings, and his last four outings. To Eiland, the difference in body language was stark.

"I froze a picture of him in his last game, and he had this glazed-over look in his eye," Eiland said. "Then I showed him on the mound [in a shutout] against Detroit. He had this look in his eye that was just different. And that comes with confidence."

In conversation with team officials, Cueto revealed a sense of insecurity about his performance. He worried that he was letting down his new team, which had acquired him specifically to lead a charge back to the World Series.

Eiland reminded Cueto that before the trade deadline, every contending team sought Cueto's services. He did not need to be anything more.

"What I told him was 'We've got to get you back to being Johnny Cueto. Be Johnny Cueto,' " Eiland said.

He looked loose before the game, playing cards with good friend Edinson Volquez and shortstop Alcides Escobar. Nearly three hours before first pitch, catcher Salvador Perez plopped down near Cueto on a black leather couch.

Cueto committed to the part in the first inning. He waggled his backside, part of his arsenal of multiple deliveries, while facing third baseman Manny Machado. But Machado walked and first baseman Chris Davis smacked a fat cutter for a single.

Facing Jones, Cueto missed inside with a fastball. On the next offering, a 93-mph heater at the knees but near the middle of the plate, Jones uncorked a drive over the center-field fence.

The Royals chipped away at the deficit in the top of the second. Salvador Perez and Alex Rios connected on two-out doubles. Perez scored on Rios' hit. Rios scored on a single by Alcides Escobar. But the Royals would never come any closer than one run away.

In the bottom of the second, Cueto faced Schoop, the same hitter who bashed a homer off him during Cueto's six-run outing on Aug. 26. This time, Schoop punished Cueto for slopping a slider over the plate. Cueto turned to Perez, his eyes wide, after the baseball cleared the fence.

From there, Cueto embarked on his best streak of the day, retiring seven batters in a row. Then Schoop came back to the plate. The sequence repeated itself: Cueto allowed his slider to float toward the plate. Schoop destroyed it.

A different offspeed choice betrayed him in the fifth. Davis boomed a changeup on the outer half of the plate, the ideal position for Davis, who struggles on pitches inside.

On the mound, Cueto appeared stunned. The TV cameras captured the width of his eyes and the exasperation on his face. There were no answers to be found.

Yost stuck with Cueto into the seventh inning. When he gave up a double and a single to start the frame, Yost did not waver. When Baltimore scored a seventh run on a subsequent grounder, Cueto stayed in. Yost let Cueto strike out Davis for his last out of the game. There was only one out in the inning, and another run would score on a double allowed by reliever Louis Coleman.

But the Royals need Johnny Cueto to pitch his way out of this funk. On Sunday, the team provided him every opportunity to do so. He never could.