Rejuvenated O's set to host banged-up Astros (Jul 21, 2017)

BY AP • July 21, 2017

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Orioles have regained some of their swagger heading into a three-game weekend series against the Houston Astros, who have the best record in the American League.

Baltimore (46-49) completed a four-game sweep of the Texas Rangers on Thursday. There has been much debate about the Orioles' strategy heading into the non-waiver trade deadline July 31 regarding the team's position as buyers or sellers.

However, manager Buck Showalter said his focus has not changed at all. Baltimore sits seven games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East and three games out of the second AL wild-card position.

"We're trying to win our division and be the last team standing -- it's as simple as that," Showalter said. "We're trying to win more games than anybody in our division and win as many games as we can and try to play more home games than away games. This is July. ... The math part of it doesn't really figure into my thinking anyway right now."

The Astros, meanwhile, dropped two of three to Seattle this week but still lead the second-place Mariners by 16 games in the AL West. Houston enters the series against Baltimore dealing with injuries to several key players.

Left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who went on the disabled list June 8 due to neck discomfort, needs at least one more rehab start before he rejoins the team. Reliever Will Harris, on the DL with a bruised right shoulder, was expected to be ready for opener in Baltimore. However, the Astros want to give Harris more time to recover and put him on a throwing program.

"Our main focus is making sure I'm 100 percent healthy so I don't have any relapse," Harris said. "Getting pretty close. I'm thinking I may play catch in the next couple of days on the road trip."

All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa underwent surgery this week to repair a torn ligament in his left and will be out at least six weeks.

The Astros will rely on right-hander Mike Fiers (6-4, 3.75 ERA) to set the tone in the opener at Camden Yards. Fiers had one of his finest starts Sunday against the Minnesota Twins when he allowed two runs and four hits with a season-high 11 strikeouts over seven innings. He didn't issue a walk.

"The curveball, I felt like I could throw it any time," Fiers said. "I was throwing it for a strike and trying to expand it for two strikes and they start swinging once you show you can command it in the zone and then they just try to put it in play."

Fiers won his only career start against the Orioles when he allowed one run and five hits over seven innings on Aug. 20, 2016.

Baltimore will counter with the struggling Ubaldo Jimenez (4-5. 7.01 ERA). He has lasted less than four innings in four of his past 14 starts. Jimenez allowed six runs on 11 hits over 3 2/3 innings against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday.

"I think everyone wants to do the job," Jimenez said. "I don't think you are going to get more pressure. Every five days, you want to go out there and be there for the team."

Jimenez has pitched well against Houston over his career, going 4-1 with a 2.87 ERA in 13 appearances, including 11 starts.

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