The Orioles didn't win the just-completed three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays, but they left town Sunday with reason to feel a lot better about their beleaguered starting rotation.

Three scoreless performances in the past six games will do that for a team, and the second one in a week by right-hander Kevin Gausman helped the Orioles score a 7-1 victory over the Rays on Sunday before an announced 26,489 at Oriole Park.

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Gausman, who had been struggling with a six-plus ERA since mid-April, pitched seven shutout innings Sunday after holding the Toronto Blue Jays scoreless over 5 1/3 innings last Monday, which reduced his ERA to a more respectable 5.61.

"That was impressive,'' manager Buck Showalter said. "I felt the seventh inning was the most impressive inning he had. You could tell he was going to carry good stuff. His secondary stuff was really good today. Probably the best secondary stuff he's had this year."

It was about this time last year that he turned his season around and delivered a strong second half, so the Orioles and their fans can only hope that recent history is about to repeat itself.

"Definitely, I think you only get confidence from success,'' he said. "You've got to have that first. I feel like I'm throwing the ball well right now and just got to keep it going. I had a great second half last year, so obviously I'm looking forward to that and knowing that I'm the type of guy who gets better as the season goes on, so that's always good."

Gausman looked comfortable on the mound throughout and was overpowering at times – striking out nine to match a season high. He said there was no secret to his recent success.

"Obviously fastball command, and being able to put guys away with it also,'' he said. "I had a good feel for my split and my changeup. Even my slider, and my first-pitch strikes were pretty good, too, so getting ahead always helps."

He looked comfortable on the mound throughout and was overpowering at times – striking nine to match a season high – and his offense made it easy to relax, staking him to a five-run lead in the early innings.

Manny Machado, whose struggles at the plate this year have been well-documented, delivered the key blow in the third inning. He lined a three-run home run into the left-field bleachers to give Gausman a four-run lead. Mark Trumbo added his second home run of the series in the fourth to make it 5-0.

Gausman threw 112 pitches before giving way to reliever Mychal Givens, who allowed a leadoff home run to catcher Jesus Sucre that accounted for the Rays' only run. Miguel Castro finished up with a scoreless ninth inning.

Caleb stays hot

Reserve catcher Caleb Joseph made his fourth start in the past seven games and continued to swing a very productive bat.

He came into Sunday's game with six hits in 10 at-bats over his previous three starts and added three more hits in four at-bats in the series finale against the Rays.

His third three-hit performance of the season gave him nine hits in his past 14 at-bats, for an otherworldly average over that period of .643.

Rotation on upswing

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Thanks largely to the work of Ubaldo Jimenez and Gausman, the Orioles rotation posted a 3-1 record and a sterling 2.62 ERA for the week.

And it picked a pretty good time to do that considering that the Orioles scored a total of 12 runs in the five games coming into Sunday's seven-run performance.

More hitting highlights

Trumbo's homer was his second of the series and 12th of the season. He also hit one in the 10th inning on Friday night. ... Fill-in shortstop Ruben Tejada has three hits in his first seven at-bats of July.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

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