Rays aim to extend Baltimore’s losing woes

The Tampa Bay Rays ended their latest losing streak by extending the Baltimore Orioles’ longest skid of the season.

After being held in check by one of the Rays’ star pitchers in the series opener, the Orioles face another challenge against Jeremy Hellickson on Saturday when they look to avoid a seventh consecutive defeat.

Coming off a three-game home sweep at the hands of the surging Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay (30-22) used 7 1-3 strong innings from David Price to move a game ahead of Baltimore for first place in the AL East with a 5-0 win Friday.

While the Rays hope they are back on track, the Orioles (29-23) are looking for anything to help end their longest skid since a nine-game losing streak July 4-15. Baltimore, which was shut out for the first time in 2012, has been outscored 31-14 in the last six contests.

“It’s a hard time for our team,” losing pitcher Wei-Yin Chen said.

Baltimore likely will not have it easy against Hellickson (4-1, 2.83 ERA), who has allowed two runs and 11 hits over 24 innings while going 3-0 at home against the Orioles. He did not factor in the decision of a 4-3 loss at Baltimore on May 11, when he gave up three runs and two homers in 6 2-3 innings.

The right-hander yielded a three-run homer in 7 2-3 innings and left without a decision in a 4-3 win at Boston on Sunday.

Hideki Matsui homered for the second time in three games since the Rays recalled the veteran from Triple-A Durham on Tuesday. Both of his hits in nine at-bats for Tampa Bay have been two-run homers. His latest shot highlighted a five-run first inning Friday.

“Not just me, but everybody else was hitting in that inning,” Matsui said. “I was glad I was able to come through.”

Matt Joyce, who had two hits in the opener, is batting .429 (9 for 21) in the last seven games. He’s 7 for 17 in his last five versus Baltimore.

Joyce has never faced scheduled Orioles starter Brian Matusz (4-5, 4.82), who is 3-1 with a 4.64 ERA at Tropicana Field, but has not pitched there since allowing three hits and striking out eight in seven innings of a 4-0 win Sept. 27, 2010.

The left-hander gave up three runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 5-3 win over the Rays on May 12 to begin a stretch of three straight winning starts. That run came to an end Sunday when he yielded four runs, two homers, and three walks in six innings of a 4-2 loss to Kansas City.

“We are going to have those days,” Matusz told the Orioles’ official website. “I still got to pitch better. Got to make better pitches.”

Adam Jones, who had his 20-game hitting streak snapped in Wednesday’s 4-1 loss at Toronto, had two hits in Friday’s series opener. Batting .353 (6 for 17) versus Tampa Bay this season, Jones is 6 for 16 with two home runs and a double against Hellickson.