Vargas tries to keep streak going in Mariners-Orioles tilt

Jason Vargas attempts to become the first Seattle pitcher in nine years to win six consecutive starts when the crafty left-hander takes the hill for the Mariners in tonight's opener of a three-game series with the Baltimore Orioles from Camden Yards.

Vargas enters this evening's contest as one of the hottest pitchers in baseball during the past month, having amassed a stellar 5-0 record and a 1.64 earned run average over his last six outings and yielding one run or fewer in four of those assignments. He extended his outstanding streak by limiting Toronto to two runs and five hits in seven sharp innings last Tuesday, and was recently named the American League's Pitcher of the Month for July.

With a win tonight, the 29-year-old would become the first Mariners hurler to record six straight victorious starts since Joel Pineiro accomplished the feat from June 16-July 13, 2003.

"Your confidence goes up with a stretch like that, but at the same time, you have to keep doing what you're doing that has made you successful," Vargas told the Mariners' official site. "You just have to keep going out there and taking it one [start] at a time."

Vargas has also pitched well when facing the Orioles over the course of his career, having posted a 1.69 ERA over five lifetime meetings despite a 1-1 record. He's 0-1 with a 1.84 ERA in two previous trips to the Camden Yards mound.

The consistent southpaw will be taking on a Baltimore squad that's received some very fine pitching of its own as of late, with the Orioles notching back- to-back shutouts to take the final two games of an important series at Tampa Bay over the weekend.

After Wei-Yin Chen combined with two relievers on a six-hitter in Saturday's 4-0 triumph over the Rays, five Baltimore pitchers teamed up to allow just three hits as the Orioles edged Tampa by a 1-0 count in 10 innings yesterday afternoon.

Miguel Gonzalez worked the first seven innings for the Orioles and surrendered just two hits and four walks in a duel with Rays ace David Price. Luis Ayala threw a scoreless ninth to earn the win, while All-Star closer Jim Johnson retired the side in order in the bottom of the 10th to come through with his 32nd save, tied with Tampa Bay's Fernando Rodney and Pittsburgh's Joel Hanrahan for tops in the majors this season.

"This time of year, I'm sure you're noticing there are a lot of really well pitched games," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. "It's pretty normal from my experience. Late July through early August you'll see some really well pitched games."

Taylor Teagarden was the offensive hero for Baltimore on Sunday, with the backup catcher plating the game's only run with a two-out double in the top of the 10th.

Chris Tillman will try to extend the Orioles' remarkable run of excellent pitching when the former Mariners farmhand goes head-to-head with Vargas in tonight's opener. The hard-throwing righty has done quite well since joining Baltimore's rotation in early July, registering a 4-1 record with a 2.70 ERA in five starts.

Tillman wasn't at his best in Tuesday's encounter with the Yankees in New York, but benefited from a wealth of offensive support in an 11-5 win. He was reached for five runs (4 earned) on eight hits before exiting after five innings.

The 24-year-old, a second-round pick of Seattle in 2006 who came over to the Orioles as part of a blockbuster trade with the Mariners for veteran pitcher Erik Bedard in 2008, has won both his career starts against his onetime organization and permitted just three runs -- one earned -- through 14 1/3 innings in those tests. His first big league effort of 2012 came against the Mariners in Seattle on July, with Tillman holding them to two unearned runs while finishing two outs shy of his first career complete game.

Seattle comes into this series having won eight of its last 10 bouts, but is just 1-2 thus far on its current nine-game road trip after dropping two of three to the Yankees this past weekend. The Mariners managed only five hits in falling by a 6-2 score in Sunday's rubber match.

Jesus Montero knocked in both Seattle runs with a pair of singles, while starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma was touched for four runs (3 earned) in five innings to take the loss.

The Orioles took two of three games from the Mariners at Safeco Field back in July and are 6-3 against Seattle since the start of the 2011 campaign. Baltimore swept a three-game set from the M's at Camden Yards last season.