Blue Jays-Orioles Preview

If the Baltimore Orioles are going to make a move in the AL East, it would help if their starting pitching could continue its recent trend of outstanding performances.

That applies to every member of the rotation except Ubaldo Jimenez.

Seeking a fourth straight win in the season series, the Orioles look to further cut into the Toronto Blue Jays’ AL East lead Friday night at Camden Yards.

Buoyed by dominant starting pitching, Baltimore (34-31) has won eight of 12 to pull within 3 1/2 games of Toronto (39-29).

Kevin Gausman was the latest Orioles starter to impress, tossing six innings of one-run ball in Thursday’s series-opening 4-2 victory. He became the 11th starter in 14 games to allow two or fewer earned runs, with the rotation pitching to a 1.40 ERA in those 11 games.

After holding Boston to one run in a three-game series, the Orioles kept the Blue Jays’ slumping offense in check for their eighth win in nine games against the AL East. Baltimore pitchers have gone 42 straight innings without allowing a home run since Jimenez surrendered Brandon Moss’ grand slam Sunday in an 11-1 loss to Oakland.

That lopsided score was the result after the struggling right-hander turned in his shortest start of the season, lasting 2 1-3 innings and yielding six runs and five walks. Jimenez (2-7, 5.01 ERA) ranks among the major league leaders with 40 walks in 70 innings and is 0-5 with a 7.04 ERA in six home starts.

”Mentally and physically, I’m good,” he said. ”I’m never going to give up. I’m going to forgot about a tough game like this one and try to get better for the team.”

Facing the Blue Jays wouldn’t appear to be a favorable matchup for Jimenez, who is 2-2 with a 5.23 ERA in six career meetings. He was tagged for five runs and a season-high 10 hits over 5 1-3 innings April 13 in an 11-3 loss.

Toronto’s offense, though, hasn’t been nearly that productive lately, scoring nine runs and batting .208 while losing five of six.

”As hot as we were, we were going to cool off sooner or later,” manager John Gibbons said. ”We’ll get it going. We’re too good of an offense. We’ll be OK.”

Edwin Encarnacion went hitless in four at-bats Thursday and is 2 for 22 in his last six games.

The Orioles, meanwhile, are batting .313 with runners in scoring position during a 12-game span and lead the majors with 17 homers in June. They are batting a major league-best .287 with runners in scoring position this season.

Tasked with slowing down that offense will be Drew Hutchison (4-4, 3.96), who is coming off arguably his worst start of the season. After tossing seven scoreless innings in his previous outing, the right-hander lasted a season-low three innings Sunday against St. Louis and allowed five runs and six hits in a 5-0 loss.

It was another poor performance at home for Hutchison, who is 1-3 with an 8.72 ERA in Toronto compared to 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA in eight road starts.

”I feel the same way when I take the mound every time, home or on the road,” Hutchison said. ”I just haven’t executed well here.”

He’s always fared well against Baltimore, going 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four career starts.

Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis are a combined 7 for 39 (.179) with 12 strikeouts against Hutchison.