a 2012 Baltimore Orioles Baseball: Orioles battle for first
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Orioles Look to Gain Sole Possession of First Place, Possibly Could Lose Hammel Again



Baltimore Orioles hats & merchandise Although the   Baltimore Orioles   (79-62) exploded for nine runs and routed the third-place   Tampa Bay Rays    (77-64) to regain a share of first place with the   Bronx Bombers   in the AL East, the mood around the city is not what one would expect.

That's because, for a second time this season, Jason Hammel  (8-6, 3.43 ERA) felt a shooting pain in his right knee, which caused  him to exit the game after just 3.2 innings

Last time this happened, it resulted in his recent arthroscopic right knee surgery around the All-Star break, which sidelined him from action for about two months. He will have an MRI this afternoon to determine whether he will have to undergo surgery again, or if it was just scar tissue, which is the hope.

Hammel has been the Orioles best surprise this year by far. No one expected him to come out and lead the ever-changing pitching rotation the way he did in the first half of the year. Luckily, in his absence,   Wei-Yin Chen   stepped his game up and played that role very well.

The Orioles' RHP was in the midst of his best season, until he began to struggle towards the end of June and realized there was something wrong and was later placed on the DL.

In his first game back in an O's uniform last Thursday against the Yankees, he pitched very well and looked like the pitcher he was in April and May.

He tossed five strong innings, scattered six base hits and surrendered just one earned run to the top home run-hitting team in the league. Although he pitched well enough to earn the win, the usually-dominant and relentless bullpen coughed up the lead (that was the game the Birds smashed three home runs in the 8th inning to win the game 10-6).

Last night, he looked sharp to begin the game; he retired 11 of the first 13 batters in the game, and only allowed a solo home run to Ryan Roberts in the top of the 4th inning. He threw one pitch to Matt Joyce, and immediately felt something and had to be removed from the game.

After his first outing in New York, of course the media jumped all over the health issue and Hammel said that his knee felt fine and there was nothing to worry about.

We'll see what the MRI reveals, but the Birds have already lost   Nick Markakis   for at least a month (depending on how the surgery goes), and they really need Hammel to be healthy and strong as he is the ace of this staff, regardless of how much time he has missed this year.


Tonight's Game

Buck Showalter will send rookie sensation   Miguel Gonzalez   (6-4, 3.62 ERA) to the hill as the Orioles again try to gain sole possession of first place in the East. 

Gonzalez has faced the Rays twice in his young career already, and they resulted in completely opposite lines. In his first outing at the end of July, the Rays roughed him up for seven earned runs over just 2.2 innings in a 10-1 defeat.

In his second start against Tampa on August 10th, he rebounded by tossing seven scoreless innings and surrendered just two base hits and worked around four free passes in a 10-inning, 1-0 victory for the Birds.

However, that could be a tough task as the Rays will send one of their hottest starters as of late, RHP   Alex Cobb   (9-8, 4.28 ERA). Over his last seven outings (since the beginning of August), he is undefeated as he has posted a 5-0 record with a 3.25 ERA.

In his last outing on September 4th against the Yankees, he tossed seven strong innings and allowed just two earned runs as he picked up his ninth victory of the year.

The 24-year-old Cobb has never faced the Orioles, and tonight should prove to be a clash of a scorching-Orioles offense and a dominant starting pitcher.

With the loss of Markakis and possibly Hammel, the rest of the team has to step it up, one by one. Last night, it was   J.J. Hardy   who broke out and delivered key hits in the Orioles 9-2 win. He went 4-for-5, including two home runs and five RBI, and missed the cycle by just a triple.

All are aware of how hot   Mark Reynolds   has been over the last month or so.   Matt Wieters   delivered three base hits last night, including a couple of RBI and a double.   Chris Davis   smashed his 25th home run of the season.

With Markakis out, Davis will be seeing more playing time in right field and Nate McClouth will be used mainly out of the leadoff spot.

Tonight, who will step it up?



By: Alex Van Rees
MLBCenter.com Staff Writer
Follow me on twitter: @Alex_VanRees

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