Blue Jays-Orioles Preview

The Associated Press

The Toronto Blue Jays were at the .500 mark with hopes of making a run at the postseason when Jose Bautista got hurt.

More than two months and a considerable drop in the standings later, Toronto hopes its slugger can provide a much-needed jolt in the lineup.

Bautista is expected to return as the slumping Blue Jays visit the Baltimore Orioles in the opener of a three-game series Friday night.

Toronto was 45-45 and very much in contention for one of the AL's wild-card spots before Bautista sprained his left wrist in a loss to the New York Yankees on July 16.

The Blue Jays (56-68) have since gone 11-23 and hit .229 as a team, and they've lost five straight and 19 of 24 following Thursday's 3-2, 11-inning loss to Detroit.

They've scored more than three runs in only five of those contests, and Colby Rasmus endured an 0-for-26 slump before his fourth-inning single.

"Everyone here knows the battles we've had, the struggles we've had currently on the offensive side, but that doesn't take away from the way we prepare," manager John Farrell told the team's official website.

Toronto hopes the return of Bautista, who was hitting .244 with 27 homers before the injury, can provide a spark to a lineup that continues to remain positive.

"We haven't had a few key hits when we needed them and it's cost us a couple ball games, but we're playing good ball," outfielder Anthony Gose said. "There's nothing for us to really hang our heads about."

Baltimore (67-57) remains confident after splitting a six-game road trip at Detroit and Texas despite falling 12-3 to the Rangers on Wednesday.

Nick Markakis is hitting .444 during a seven-game hitting streak after going 3 for 4 and driving in all three runs. The Orioles are tied with Detroit and Oakland for the second wild-card spot.

"It's a great road trip against these two teams," Markakis told the team's official website. "It's definitely good. We could have won a game or two more, but we can't hang our heads."

Baltimore will look to bounce back against Blue Jays starter Carlos Villanueva, who has pitched well despite going 0-3 with a 3.55 ERA over his last four starts.

Villanueva (6-3, 3.10 ERA) allowed two runs and four hits in 6 1-3 innings of Saturday's 2-1 loss to Texas, pitching six full innings for the seventh time in his nine starts this season.

"Going out there, going six, seven innings every time and giving the guys a chance to win is what we get paid for as starters, especially," Villanueva said.

The right-hander will be opposed by Zach Britton, who is coming off his best outing of the season. Britton (2-1, 6.23) allowed six hits in seven scoreless innings of Saturday's 3-2 win over Detroit - a welcomed performance after giving up 20 runs over his previous three starts.

"There wasn't any panic in his eyes," manager Buck Showalter said. "He had a presence."

The left-hander's lone start versus Toronto was an 8-4 loss on June 3, 2011, when he lost to Villanueva after allowing seven runs in five innings.

It's unclear if Britton will have Matt Wieters as his catcher after Wieters was hit with a foul ball in the right shoulder Wednesday. X-rays were negative and he's listed as day to day.

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