Orioles welcome Rays to town for weekend series

The Baltimore Orioles look to turn things around at Camden Yards on Friday, as they host the Tampa Bay Rays for the opener of a three- game series.

Baltimore was idle on Thursday after suffering a two-game home sweep at the hands of the Padres, its first series sweep this season. The Orioles fell to 9-8 at home, compared to 14-9 in road games.

On Tuesday, O's All-Star closer Jim Johnson blew his first regular-season save opportunity in 36 attempts as San Diego rallied to score two runs in the ninth inning to win, 3-2. Baltimore's offense managed only five hits for the game, which left the door open for the Padres to hang around and make their move in the ninth.

The next day, San Diego pounded out 17 hits en route to an 8-4 victory. Orioles starter Freddy Garcia lasted only 3 2/3 innings after giving up four runs and throwing 75 pitches. The bullpen was not able to stop the bleeding.

"[Garcia was] not quite as crisp. He wasn't the only one," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We just didn't pitch well (Wednesday). It wasn't just Freddy. They hit a lot of balls hard, too. They came in here and swung the bats well. We've got to pitch better. It was certainly a hiccup pitching-wise today."

Tampa Bay is coming off back-to-back losses against the Red Sox, which followed up a six-game winning streak. Starter Alex Cobb allowed only one run in 6 1/3 innings on Thursday, but closer Fernando Rodney blew the save as he surrendered a bases-clearing double to Will Middlebrooks in the ninth inning and the Rays lost, 4-3. Rodney paid the price for walking four batters.

"Twice during this homestand (Rodney has) been one pitch away from really being pretty darn good," manager Joe Maddon said. "That's the incredible nature of our game, and that's part of the beauty of the game. But we'll come back, we'll play tomorrow, we'll file this away, we'll try to continue to get better and I think we will."

Jeremy Hellickson takes the pill for Tampa Bay and will try to end a disturbing trend that has seen him waste leads in four of his last five starts. Against San Diego on Saturday, Hellickson spoiled a four-run lead when he served up a seventh-inning grand slam, prompting a stern warning from normally reserved Maddon in his post-game remarks. The Rays went on to win that game on Evan Longoria's walk-off home run.

"You can't go to the dance playing like that," Maddon said. "You get leads, you've got to put the other team away."

For Baltimore, Opening Day starter Jason Hammel will look to put a tough start to the season in his rearview mirror. Hammel gave up six earned runs in only four innings of work against Minnesota last Friday. Despite a 5-1 record, his ERA sits at 4.93 through eight starts.

"It's been a grind from the get-go, honestly. Really not much to say about myself," Hammel said. "Obviously it's frustrating because I haven't been the Jason Hammel that I know that I can be.

These teams met up for a pair of series in April, and Baltimore won two out of three both times.