Pirates-Orioles Preview

The Associated Press

A six-game skid and the loss of one of their top players figured to test the resiliency of the surprising Baltimore Orioles.

Their recent play has earned them more than a passing grade.

Baltimore looks to complete a sweep of the formerly red-hot Pittsburgh Pirates and match a season high with its fifth straight win Thursday night at Camden Yards.

A 29-17 record had the Orioles atop the AL East late in May before they dropped six in a row to fall into second place. Getting back to winning was made more difficult with the loss of right fielder and No. 3 hitter Nick Markakis to a wrist injury that is expected to sideline him at least two more weeks.

Baltimore, though, has rebounded to win four straight and seven of 10 since the losing streak. The first six of those victories were by two runs or fewer and three came in extra innings.

Struggling Jake Arrieta was brilliant as a substitute starter and Chris Davis had a broken-bat homer and three RBIs in the Orioles' 7-1 victory Wednesday. Wilson Betemit and J.J. Hardy had three hits apiece for Baltimore (36-26), which has 28 in the first two games of this series.

"I have never seen a guy walk out of the batter's box with four inches of wood and hit a home run," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "That was a new one for me."

Davis, recently moved into the No. 3 spot in the order, is batting .328 (21 for 64) with seven homers and 16 RBIs in his last 17 games.

Pittsburgh (32-29) entered this set with four straight wins and 12 in 15 games, but is in danger of losing three in a row for the first time since a season-high five-game skid April 10-14.

Hurdle's club is 2 for 18 with runners in scoring position in this series.

"No. 1, we need to execute better off the mound. No. 2, when we got chances to score runs, we have to perform the offensive fundamentals to go along with that," he said. "The game is pretty simple when you break it down, and they have outplayed us back-to-back nights. It shouldn't be any surprise to anyone here that we're down two."

Erik Bedard (4-6, 3.59 ERA) will try to get the Pirates back on track against his original team.

The left-hander spent his first five seasons with the Orioles before he was traded to Seattle on Feb. 8, 2008, in the deal that sent Adam Jones to Baltimore. He's 1-0 with a 3.57 ERA in five starts against his former team but has failed to pitch past the fourth inning in three of those outings.

Jones is 6 for 11 against the player he was traded for while Matt Wieters is 3 for 9 with a pair of homers versus Bedard.

Bedard continued his strong pitching at PNC Park in a 4-2 victory Friday over Kansas City, yielding two runs and five hits over seven innings. He's 2-2 with a 2.45 ERA in six home starts, compared to 2-4 with a 4.85 ERA in six outside Pittsburgh.

Tommy Hunter (2-3, 5.40) looks to establish himself in Baltimore's rotation with a second consecutive quality start. Recalled from the minors to start Saturday against Philadelphia, the right-hander responded by limiting the Phillies to three runs - all on solo homers - and five other hits over seven innings in a 12-inning win.

Both starters in this game seem far more comfortable pitching at home, where Hunter is 2-1 with a 3.46 ERA. He's 0-2 with an 8.31 ERA on the road.

Hunter beat the Pirates with six strong innings in his first meeting with them June 22, 2010, while with Texas.

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