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Orioles on deck: What to watch Sunday at Astros

Orioles (25-22) vs. Astros (34-16)

Where: Minute Maid Park

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First pitch: 2:10 p.m.

TV/Radio: MASN2/105.7 FM

Starting pitchers: Orioles RHP Alec Asher (1-2, 2.17 ERA) vs. Astros RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (5-1, 2.43 ERA)

What to watch

1. Need a jolt. As the losses have piled up, the Orioles offense has experienced a downturn. The Orioles have scored three runs or fewer in four straight games and five of six. They have just five runs and 22 hits over their past four games. Maybe it's a reverse lock, but this afternoon, they run into Lance McCullers Jr., who seems to have figured it out at age 23. He hasn't allowed an earned run since May 1, going 24 innings and four starts with zeros across the board.

2. Rotation shift. Today's start marks the Orioles' first since removing Ubaldo Jimenez from the rotation. Alec Asher gets first crack at taking over the open spot. The 25-year-old right-hander has been quite impressive with a 1.23 ERA in seven relief appearances this month. He has made two spot starts for the Orioles this season, providing quality starts each time.

3. Hardy strong. Could J.J. Hardy be starting to heat up at the plate? After two hits Saturday, he has multiple hits in back-to-back games for the first time this season and is batting .438 (7-for-16) over his past five games. The Orioles could use more contributions from the shortstop, especially if center fielder Adam Jones misses some time with his sore hip and ankle.

Orioles lineup

RF Seth Smith

2B Jonathan Schoop

3B Manny Machado

DH Mark Trumbo

1B Chris Davis

C Welington Castillo

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LF Hyun Soo Kim

CF Joey Rickard

SS Paul Janish

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