Cleaning out my notebook

The Orioles have been reduced to playing spoilers again, which has become an unfortunate and unwanted September tradition in Baltimore.

They’ve got two more games with the Tampa Bay Rays, who have muscled their way back into the wild card race and are putting serious heat on the Boston Red Sox. The Orioles have three games against the Los Angeles Angels to complete this homestand, then three games against the Red Sox and four against the Detroit Tigers on their final road trip before returning to Camden Yards for three games against Boston to close the 2011 season.

It really needs to be closed. Bolt it shut. Take a hammer and nails to it.

Players don’t endure the rigors and repetition of seven weeks of spring training so they can be reduced to spoilers, but they’ve got to make the best of it.

“Absolutely,” Chris Davis said after last night’s 5-2 loss to the Rays. “You want to finish the year on a positive note. And the fact that we’re playing guys that are trying to get into the playoffs and try to continue their season, it gives us a little added motivation to kind of spoil their season, so to speak. These teams are playing well.

“It’s going to be a battle for us, but it’s going to be a test to see how we finish up and how we take it into the off-season.”

Manager Buck Showalter feels an obligation to write out a lineup that gives his team the best chance to win, and maintains the “integrity” of the game and the pennant races, while also continuing to evaluate players and do what’s best for the Orioles.

It’s a difficult balancing act.

“Sometimes, physically and health-wise, you don’t have a lot of choices,” he said. “I’ve said many times, the tie-breaker’s always going to be what’s best for the Baltimore Orioles. But along the way, there’s a certain competitive integrity that I think you mean to keep in mind, too. But sometimes that might be with some guy who’s been with Norfolk, all year, too. I thought the energy level that some of our young guys have brought, and especially day games after night games - we’ve been challenged with travel and sleep - I thought they actually presented a better opportunity for us to win. There’s a lot of different things to factor in there.”

The Rays are sending David Price to the mound tonight, and left-handers are batting .174 against him this season. Showalter might want to stack his lineup with right-handers, but Nolan Reimold is 2-for-16 against Price, Robert Andino is 1-for-9, J.J. Hardy is 2-for-12 and Adam Jones is 3-for-20.

Mark Reynolds is 2-for-11 with seven strikeouts, but both hits are home runs.

Jones is day-to-day with a sore right thumb. If he’s not in tonight’s lineup, that will be four straight games that he’s missed.

The thumb bothers him when he grips a bat.

The assumption was made that Showalter removed Jones from Sunday’s lineup because of the center fielder’s left ankle. Showalter didn’t want the Toronto Blue Jays to know about Jones’ thumb.

Chris Davis will be the primary third baseman for the rest of the month. Reynolds will continue to play first.

The Orioles need to figure out a position for Davis, but it won’t matter if he doesn’t hit. His bat is being evaluated just as much as his glove.

Alfredo Simon starts tonight for the Orioles. He’s 1-0 with a 2.65 ERA in five career appearances against the Rays spanning 17 innings.

Simon has made only one start against Tampa Bay, allowing three earned runs and seven hits in 7 2/3 innings back in September 2008.

Strange splits for the Orioles this season: They’re 6-3 against the Rays at Tropicana Field and 1-6 at Camden Yards.

The Rays clinched their fourth straight winning season, all of them coming since they dropped the “Devil” in their nickname in 2008.

What change could the Orioles make that would have a similar impact? Just go by the Baltimore O’s?

Nick Markakis has drawn 17 walks in his last 16 games.

In his last eight games, Vladimir Guerrero is 13-for-29 with four doubles and a home run.

Left-hander Zach Phillips hasn’t allowed a run in 4 2/3 innings since the Orioles recalled him from Triple-A Norfolk.

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin will throw out Friday’s ceremonial first pitch. I think a slap shot would be more appropriate.

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