Blue Jays-Orioles Preview

Jose Bautista has become one of the most feared hitters in

baseball, but he hasn’t lived up to that billing against the lowly

Baltimore Orioles this year.

Bautista appears to have his home run swing back in order as the

Toronto Blue Jays visit the last-place Orioles in the opener of a

three-game series Friday night.

He’s compiled 87 homers and 197 RBIs since the start of last

season, leading the majors in both categories while the

next-closest home run total is 20 away by St. Louis’ Albert Pujols.

Bautista’s 33 homers are tops in baseball this year, and he’s fifth

in the AL with a .321 average.

His only two hits in the past three games have been solo shots,

a stretch which comes after he went a season-high 14 games without

a home run.

He’s gone 11 in a row without homering against Baltimore (43-65)

while batting .143 (5 for 35). Even though the Orioles rank last in

the majors with a 4.86 ERA and 137 homers allowed, they are the

only team to face Bautista in more than four games this year and

keep him in the yard.

Bautista is a career .191 hitter at Camden Yards with six homers

in 28 games.

The start of this series may not lend well to Bautista, who is 0

for 8 versus Tommy Hunter – Friday’s scheduled starter.

Despite Bautista’s struggles, the Blue Jays (56-55) have won 21

of the last 27 meetings with the Orioles, taking two of three at

home from July 26-28.

Blue Jays top prospect and third baseman Brett Lawrie is

expected to make his major league debut. Lawrie hit .353 with 18

homers and 61 RBIs in 69 games at Triple-A Las Vegas, and is fully

healthy after fracturing his hand in late May.

“This is a guy that we’ve had a lot of expectations on,” manager

John Farrell told the team’s official website. “That’s not to

create more of a hysteria situation, than the attention that’s

going to follow him, but he has done everything we’ve asked at

Triple-A.”

Brad Mills, who was a hard-luck loser in his season debut in

Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to Texas, starts for Toronto. The left-hander

allowed two runs in seven innings.

He was impressive in his only meeting with the Orioles on July

28, 2010, yielding two hits in seven innings of a 5-0 victory. That

stands as his only win in 10 games – six starts – over three

seasons.

The Orioles are opening a 10-game homestand after losing five of

six following Thursday’s 9-4 defeat at Kansas City.

They may be without J.J. Hardy, who left Thursday’s loss with a

sore ankle. He hit his 19th homer of the season before getting hurt

and is considered day-to-day.

“The good news, it doesn’t seem to be like an ankle turn,

(because) it’s not swelling,” manager Buck Showalter told the

team’s official website. “We will see where we are (Friday). (Cesar

Izturis) might be coming back at just the right time.”

Izturis is expected to return from nerve irritation in his right

elbow, which needed surgery and landed him on the disabled list in

May. He may fill in for Hardy at short, but he’s just 5 for 26 with

Baltimore this year.

Izturis went 3 for 10 with three RBIs in a three-game rehab

stint in the minors.

“I’m excited,” Showalter said. “We haven’t had him here in a

while. He can do a lot things for us. We’ll be able to use him in a

lot of ways.”

Hunter (1-1, 3.31 ERA) is getting his first start since being

acquired in a three-player deal with Texas on Saturday. He allowed

one run in one inning of relief in his team debut during Tuesday’s

8-2 win over the Royals.

The right-hander is 1-1 with an 8.05 ERA in three starts versus

Toronto.