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Orioles' homestand uneven like season has been so far

BALTIMORE — Entering a 10-game homestand on June 6, the Baltimore Orioles were in second place in the American League East, 5 1-2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays.

With the Jays, fellow AL East rival Boston, and AL West-leading Oakland coming to town, the Orioles had an opportunity to rattle off some impressive wins and perhaps move into first place. Or they could skid and get passed by the Yankees and Red Sox in the standings.

But much like Baltimore has done most of the season, the 10-game homestand was average for the Orioles, having its ups and downs. With a 5-2 loss to Toronto Sunday before a sellout crowd of 46,469 at Camden Yards, Baltimore finished the homestand with a 5-5 record, splitting a four-game set with the Jays, and sitting in second 4 1-2 games back.

"It's not a missed opportunity, we're going to get back and face our division mid-August and throughout September," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "So we're going to have our chance again at all our guys in our division."

The Orioles' (35-33) best chance to gain ground in the division race was this weekend against Toronto. They entered Thursday 3 1-2 games out of first after dropping two of three to Oakland and taking two of three from Boston.

And despite quality pitching from the Orioles' starters, which they had nearly the entire homestand, they could only take two against the Jays. That's largely because the offense was not as consistent.

In the five losses on the homestand, Baltimore scored a total of five runs and was shut out twice. The Orioles also scored four runs or less in three of the five wins.

"We keep creating the opportunity and the situation," Jones said, "We just need to get that big hit."

On Sunday, Baltimore's bats struggled early against Toronto's J.A. Happ (6-3). The Jays left-hander gave up one run in six innings of work. That run came on a Nelson Cruz RBI single in the sixth.

The Orioles' only other run came in the eighth on a solo home run just inside the left-field foul pole by Jones, his 11th of the season, cutting Toronto's lead to 5-2. Baltimore had several other opportunities to score though.

J.J. Hardy doubled and Jonathan Schoop beat out an infield single to lead off the third. But Nick Hundley flew out and Nick Markakis and Manny Machado both struck out as the Orioles came away with no runs.

Baltimore starter Chris Tillman ended the club's streak of six straight games with the starter pitching at least six innings and giving up two or fewer runs. But the Orioles right-hander still turned in the team's seventh consecutive quality start, giving up three runs over seven innings.

Dioner Navarro went 3 for 4 with a double and a pair of RBIs for Toronto. Jose Bautista added an RBI double and Edwin Encarnacion hit a pair of doubles.

Tillman (5-4) has pitched better at Camden Yards. He has a 2.51 ERA at home and a 6.33 ERA on the road. Yet, all four of his losses have been at home and all five of his wins have come on the road.

Since pitching only one inning on June 4 against Texas, Tillman has given up four runs over his last 13 innings pitched.

"I think we're starting to get somewhere," Tillman said. "I'm starting to feel like my old self. I think I'm making better pitches and feeling more confident in my ability to make a better pitch and command the strike zone."

After Tillman exited, reliever Tommy Hunter gave up two runs in just 2-3 of an inning and left to some boos from the crowd.

Toronto's Casey Janssen recorded the last four outs of the game to notch his 12th save.

Now, the Orioles take a six-game road trip to take on division rivals Tampa Bay and New York. And like Jones, Baltimore manager Buck Showalter doesn't see the .500 homestand as a disappointment, particularly this early in the season against a strong team in Toronto.

"We'd like to do better against a team that good, but I'm sure they would too," Showalter said. "There's a lot of baseball left."

NOTE: Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was out of the lineup for a scheduled rest day. Davis said before the game that it had nothing to do with his health, but was a day Showalter wanted to give him off. ... Tillman, Hunter, and T.J. McFarland each had zero strikeouts on Sunday. It was the first time the Orioles failed to record a strikeout since May 27, 2010.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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