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TEX@BAL: Chen hurls seven strong in return from DL

Last year's postseason began with the Orioles knocking off the Rangers in the inaugural American League Wild Card game.

The clubs could be heading toward another October collision, with both locked in tight playoff races at the All-Star break. First, they will open their second-half schedules against each other Friday night, when they begin a three-game series in Texas.

The teams already tangled at Camden Yards from July 8-11, splitting a four-game set. That was part of a 4-3 homestand for the Orioles and a 3-4 road trip for the Rangers heading into the break.

Texas, two games behind Oakland for the AL West lead, is on its way to a fourth consecutive postseason berth, despite a rash of injuries, especially to its starting rotation.

"It's been a good season so far," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "These players have shown what they are made of. With everything that has happened, they haven't let anything bother them. I expect them to go out and continue that."

Baltimore is third in the AL East, 4 1/2 games behind Boston, but entered the break 10 games over .500, a year after its first playoff run since 1997. Manager Buck Showalter said Saturday that getting his rotation healthier and pitching more innings will be the key to an October return.

"[If] we go deeper into our games with our starting pitching [like last year], we'll have some fun," Showalter said. "If not, it will be a challenge.

"If we can stay healthy, I think we're going to have a chance to be competitive with our rotation. We've got some people in place that could help us if we have a problem. But we know that can change."

One big factor is Friday's starter, Wei-Yin Chen. The left-hander spent nearly two months on the disabled list but returned July 10 and improved to 4-3 with seven solid innings against the Rangers. He gave up three hits and three walks while striking out four, dropping his ERA to 2.82 in nine outings.

"It's big. For the last year and a half, he was a consistent force for our rotation," catcher Matt Wieters said of Chen's return. "You know he's going to go out there and give you everything he has and compete. You want that guy going on the mound as much as you can."

Chen will oppose fellow lefty Derek Holland (8-4, 3.08 ERA), who fired quality starts his last four times out before the break. He went 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA over that span, striking out 31 in 28 2/3 innings. On July 8 against the Orioles, he gave up five runs (three earned) over 6 2/3 innings, with seven K's.

"I just have to start the second half strong," Holland said. "It's been a good first half and I want to make the second half even better. I want to continue what I've been doing."

Orioles: Offensive additions coming
• Outfielder Henry Urrutia and infielder Danny Valencia are expected to join the active roster for Friday's game, a baseball source confirmed to on Thursday. The Orioles could wait until Saturday for Urrutia, a 26-year-old Cuban whom the Orioles signed last July.

Urrutia hit .365 with a .958 OPS between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk this season and appeared in the Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game in New York on Monday. The left-handed hitter most likely would be used as a designated hitter against right-handed pitchers.

Valencia hit .230/.277/.508 in 21 games during a previous stint with the Orioles this season, starting exclusively at DH. He was hitting .314/.350/.607 in 48 games for Triple-A Norfolk.

The Orioles have not announced any corresponding moves to clear space on the 25-man roster. Urrutia also must be added to the 40-man roster.

• Third baseman Manny Machado went into the break with a Major League-best 39 doubles, setting him up to challenge the all-time single-season record of 67, set by Earl Webb in 1931. Nobody has reached 60 two-baggers in a season since 1936.

Rangers: First-inning struggles
• The Rangers did not score in the first inning during their seven-game road trip to end the first half, going 2-for-22 with two walks. A lack of offense early in games is nothing new.

Texas' .198 average and 24 runs scored are the lowest first-inning marks in the Major Leagues. The club has crossed the plate in the opening frame in only 16 of its 95 games, getting outscored 46-24.

When the Rangers do score in the first, they are 14-2.

• The Rangers activated infielder Jeff Baker and outfielder Craig Gentry from the disabled list for Friday's game. Baker has been sidelined since June 13, with a right thumb sprain incurred when a teammate gave him an overenthusiastic high-five. Gentry has been out since June 21 with a fractured left hand.

Right-handed reliever Wilmer Font and catcher-infielder Robinson Chirinos have been optioned to Triple-A Round Rock to clear space on the 25-man roster.

Worth noting
• The Rangers took two of three regular-season home games against the Orioles in 2012.

• Texas leads the Majors with a .276 average and a .786 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) against left-handed starting pitchers. Comments