Rays-Orioles Preview

The Tampa Bay Rays were expected to be competing for the AL East

lead. The same can’t be said about the Baltimore Orioles.

One of them is about to get the upper hand in the division

chase, and the Rays are banking on a better performance from Jeremy

Hellickson to tilt things in their favor.

Hellickson takes the mound against the Orioles as the AL East

co-leaders open a three-game series Friday night at Camden

Yards.

Tampa Bay (20-12) has reached the postseason in three of the

last four years, winning two division titles. That success combined

with a strong rotation is reason enough for the Rays to be

considered a favorite to add another crown in 2012.

So far, they’re living up to expectations, but the Orioles

(20-12) are far exceeding any that they’ve had for more than a

decade.

The moribund franchise hasn’t finished with a winning record

since winning the East and reaching the AL championship series in

1997.

Now, there’s optimism in Baltimore, but Hellickson (3-0, 2.75

ERA) isn’t surprised.

“They’re a good ballclub,” Hellickson told the team’s official

website. “It’s not an easy place to pitch. I just have to do

better.”

Hellickson split two starts in Baltimore last year, allowing

five runs and 10 hits – two homers – with eight walks in 10 2-3

innings. He’s been much better against the Orioles at home, where

he’s won all three starts with a 0.75 ERA.

The right-hander will try to rebound from his worst start of the

season. He gave up three runs and five hits with three walks while

throwing 102 pitches in 3 2-3 innings of Saturday’s 4-3 loss in 12

to Oakland.

“It’s not a good feeling, getting pulled in the fourth inning,”

Hellickson said.

While Hellickson tries to become accustomed to Camden Yards,

Luke Scott should feel right at home in his first game there since

signing with the Rays after four years with Baltimore.

Scott hit 84 homers – 53 at Camden Yards – in his time in an

Orioles uniform, the most for the team in that period.

His seven homers for Tampa Bay tie him with Matt Joyce for the

club lead, while his 22 RBIs are tops on the Rays.

Both teams lost their most recent series.

Tampa Bay has dropped four of five following Thursday’s 5-3

defeat at New York, while Baltimore lost three of four at home to

Texas.

The Orioles had a chance to sweep a doubleheader Thursday, but

fell 7-3 in the nightcap. Baltimore hit five home runs in a 6-5 win

in the opener, becoming the first AL team to start a game with

three in a row.

This series continues a challenging stretch for Buck Showalter’s

Orioles, who have gone 6-4 thus far against the Yankees, Boston and

Texas.

“Tampa’s a perennial playoff team,” Showalter said. “It’s

playing at this level. There’s another challenge right behind

it.”

Adam Jones is 5 for 13 with a double and a homer against

Hellickson. He enters this matchup with three homers and six RBIs

in his last eight games, despite going 6 for 33.

Baltimore is expected to recall Dana Eveland from Triple-A

Norfolk and give him his first start of the season.

The left-hander was 3-2 with a 2.21 ERA in six starts in the

minors after the Orioles acquired him in a three-player deal from

the Los Angeles Dodgers in December.

“He’s pitching real well down there, pitching as well as any of

their starters are, so I think we’re lucky to have him,” Showalter

said. “We’ll see if Tampa agrees with me.”

Eveland is 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA in three starts against the Rays,

but hasn’t faced them since April 26, 2009.