The Baltimore Orioles hardly missed a beat while Ubaldo Jimenez recovered from a sprained right ankle.
Now, he just hopes to keep one of baseball’s hottest teams rolling in his return.
Jimenez makes his first start in over a month for the surging Orioles, who look to win a seventh consecutive series Saturday against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals.
Since Jimenez’s last appearance July 5, Baltimore (66-49) has gone a major league-best 19-9 to extend its AL East lead to five games over the Yankees. A victory in one of the next two games would give the Orioles wins in seven consecutive series for the first time since taking eight straight in 1993.
Batting just .237 since July 1, the Orioles have been carried by a pitching staff that ranks third in the majors during that span with a 2.89 ERA.
Chris Tillman was the latest starter to impress, tossing shutout ball into the seventh inning Friday before surrendering A.J. Pierzynski’s two-run homer.
Tillman, though, didn’t need to be nearly that sharp with the Orioles hitting a season-high six home runs in a 12-2 rout. J.J. Hardy homered twice while Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Ryan Flaherty and Adam Jones also went deep.
”Anytime you can get a big lead and come out of the game early it’s nice,” Hardy said. ”It’s fun just to be able to relax and watch the game.”
That increased the Orioles’ major league-leading home run total to 144 and gave them 15 in a seven-game span.
Baltimore starters have allowed seven runs in the last five home games, but Jimenez (3-8, 4.52 ERA) is 1-6 with a 5.29 ERA in nine starts at Camden Yards even with his most recent outing there being his best. He gave up an unearned run and four hits over eight innings June 30 in a 7-1 win over Texas.
"He’s healthy, he’s ready to go, he’s physically in good shape and looking forward to getting back in the fight and helping his teammates," manager Buck Showalter told MLB’s official website.
Although he’s been a huge disappointment in his first season in Baltimore, Jimenez had allowed one run in five of his last eight starts before he was injured.
He’s 2-3 with a 3.33 ERA in eight starts against the Cardinals, last facing them in 2012 with Cleveland.
This is a favorable matchup for Jhonny Peralta, who is 9 for 24 (.346) with a homer and four doubles against Jimenez.
St. Louis’ offensive woes continued Friday with its second loss in six games. The Cardinals (61-53), who dropped behind Pittsburgh into third in the NL Central, have scored a major league-worst 62 runs in 19 games since July 13.
John Lackey received just enough support to win his Cardinals debut Sunday. The right-hander limited Milwaukee to two runs over seven innings in a 3-2 victory. He didn’t walk a batter for the second time in three starts and struck out four.
”It worked out good, got a win,” Lackey said after St. Louis rallied for three runs in the seventh. ”You obviously want to do well in a new place, for sure."
Lackey is 3-1 with a 2.33 ERA in his past four starts dating to his time with Boston, pitching seven innings in three straight.
After a quality start in his first appearance this season against Baltimore, he went 0-2 with a 9.28 ERA in the next two.
Nelson Cruz is 5 for 7 with a pair of homers in 2014 against Lackey, while Jonathan Schoop is 4 for 6.