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BALTIMORE - Baltimore Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter wasn't great last season. He was 7-8 with a 5.45 ERA, the highest of his career.

But most of that came as a starter. When Hunter moved to the bullpen for good, things got a lot better for the right-hander.

He's been even better so far in 2013.

In 20 starts in 2012, Hunter went 4-8 with a whopping 5.71 ERA. But then, as a reliever, he went 3-0 with a 3.71 ERA in 13 appearances.

This year, in 20 relief appearances, the 26-year-old is 3-1 with a 1.74 ERA. And as of late, Hunter has been impressive.

He has given up just three runs in his last 27 1-3 innings, a 0.99 ERA over his last 17 outings. Hunter also has 23 strikeouts this season to go along with just five walks.

Hunter said the major difference for him has been better pitch location.

"That's the name of the game," Hunter said. "I'm starting to throw better pitches."

It certainly has been different for Hunter, who last season was not even able to stay in the majors all year.

But late last season and into the playoffs, Hunter found his groove. And it has carried over into the first two months of this season.

He posted a 0.71 ERA in 10 September appearances last year.

"Hopefully it continues and I keep getting outs," Hunter said.

INJURY UPDATES: Orioles reliever Pedro Strop, who has been on the disabled list with a lower back strain, will throw a simulated game Tuesday in Houston. Baltimore manager Buck Showalter was uncertain if Strop will go on a rehab assignment following that.

Meanwhile, outfielder Nolan Reimold, who has an injured hamstring, will not accompany the team to Houston. Showalter said he may go on a rehab assignment.

Starter Wei-Yin Chen has no timetable to return. At this time, he is just jogging lightly in the pool. It has been three weeks since he strained his oblique in a start against Minnesota.

ON A ROLL: J.J. Hardy played in his 1,000th career game on Saturday and performed quite well. He became just the fourth player to hit two home runs in a game against Tigers ace Justin Verlander, joining Nick Swisher, Carlos Quentin, and Desmond Jennings.

It boosted Hardy's career homer total to 145, which is sixth most by a shortstop in 1,000 career games according to STATS. Hardy was behind Alex Rodriguez, Ernie Banks, Nomar Garciaparra, Vern Stephens, and former Orioles Cal Ripken Jr. and Miguel Tejada.

Hardy's .982 fielding percentage through 1,000 games is tied for the third-best all-time with former Oriole Mike Bordick. They're behind just Omar Vizquel and Jimmy Rollins.

COMING UP: After today's off-day, the Orioles travel to Houston and then to Tampa Bay. Chris Tillman (4-2, 4.26 ERA), Freddy Garcia (2-2, 3.57), and Miguel Gonzalez (2-2, 4.33) are the listed starters for the series against the Astros.

Houston's probable pitchers are Lucas Harrell (4-6, 5.37), Dallas Keuchel (2-2, 5.10), and Bud Norris (5-4, 3.39).

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