Saunders starts Friday in Oakland (and more notes)

The Orioles’ rotation is coming a little more into focus, though it still includes some hazy patches.

Get used to it. Manager Buck Showalter can’t plan too far ahead, no matter how hard he tries.

You already know that left-hander Wei-Yin Chen is starting Thursday afternoon against the Rays. Left-hander Joe Saunders will start Friday night in Oakland.

Now comes the hazy part.

Chris Tillman could start Saturday, with left-hander Zach Britton taking the mound on Sunday. Showalter could choose to flip-flop them. He could choose to talk Triple-A Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin out of retirement (He joked about it yesterday.)

Showalter is expected to reveal his rotation after tonight’s game.

Jason Hammel’s MRI on Thursday is scheduled for 10 a.m., and the Orioles should have the results later in the day. Team orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens said the right knee was “unremarkable” earlier today, which is good. Nothing alarming came out of the exam, though that was “first blush,” as Showalter put it. The MRI will tell the complete story.

Hammel could choose to go for a second opinion.

Troy Patton is still expected to throw live batting practice Friday in Sarasota and could pitch in an instructional league game on Monday. Jim Thome could soon get some at-bats in instructional league games after taking batting practice today in the cage.

For the Rays:
B.J. Upton CF
Jeff Keppinger DH
Ben Zobrist SS
Evan Longoria 3B
Ben Francisco LF
Carlos Pena 1B
Ryan Roberts 2B
Matt Joyce RF
Jose Molina C

Alex Cobb RHP

Nick Markakis was back in the clubhouse today with his left hand in a cast. The Orioles appreciated that he rejoined the team.

“I know it’s important for both of us,” Showalter said. “Nicky’s one of the most, in a nice way, miserable DL guys I’ve ever had. And it will be tough on him, but it will be even tougher on him if he wasn’t there. It’s great for everybody, because we’re kind of feeding off the idea that we’re trying to accomplish the playoff picture so Nick had the potential to return to us. You know, it’s a long shot for him to be able to make that physically, but one of the things we learned here is Nick is one of our quicker healers physically.

“I know Nicky’s talking about the amount of milk he’s planning on drinking. He actually is.”

The Athletics are starting Tommy Milone (12-10, 3.90 ERA), Jarrod Parker (10-8, 3.56 ERA) and Dan Straily (2-0, 3.42 ERA) in the three-game series against the Orioles.

If the Orioles win tonight, they will reach 80 victories for the first time since 1997 (98).

The Orioles have won 40 games at home for the first time since 2006. The last time they won 41 or more at home was 2000 (44). Their next home victory will guarantee them a winning home record for the first time since 2000 (44-37).

The Orioles have homered in 39 of their 40 home wins. Their only win without a homer was Aug. 15 vs. the Red Sox.

The Orioles have hit 110 homers at Camden Yards this season, tying the 1987 team for the second-most in club history. The record is 121, set by the 1996 team. This year’s team is on pace for 124. The Orioles hit 106 homers at Camden Yards last season.

Since allowing 10 runs to the Rays on July 25, the Orioles have held them to six runs over the last five games. Tampa Bay has five doubles, four homers and a .173 average in those five games, and the Orioles have gone 4-1.

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