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BAL@SEA: Hammel strikes out eight over 6 2/3 innings

No team reached the All-Star break on a better run than the Tigers, who completed a sweep of the Royals on Sunday for their fifth straight win and eighth in 11 games.

But there's a lot more work left to do for Detroit, which opens its second half on Friday night in Baltimore. The Orioles, scuffling after a strong start, will host a three-game series at Camden Yards, with Jason Hammel and Doug Fister getting the pitching assignments for Game 1.

Even after their recent burst, the Tigers sit at 44-42 and in third place in the American League Central -- a half-game behind the Indians and 3 1/2 back of the front-running White Sox. So pardon manager Jim Leyland if he's staying cautious for now.

"I don't get too excited," Leyland said before Sunday's 7-1 victory over the Royals. "We know what we got to do. We got a big grind ahead of us and I look forward to that. It's a nice challenge. I see some signs of some good things [but] we're not over the hump."

Leyland's hope is that a healthier pitching staff will bolster the club in the second half, especially with a daunting schedule. The Tigers still have 10 games with the Angels, three with the Rangers, three with the Red Sox and four with the Yankees, in addition to plenty of division clashes with the White Sox and Indians.

"We don't have any easy pickins coming up this second half," Leyland said.

"So we got our challenges. That's a good thing. That's what you do this for."

The Orioles led the AL East by as many as two games in late May and still clung to a half-game advantage on June 6. But they've lost 13 of 19, including three of four to the Angels in the final series of the first half. Baltimore entered the break coming off consecutive shutouts.

While the Orioles still sit in second place, the Rays, Red Sox and Blue Jays all are within 2 1/2 games, much closer than Baltimore is to the division-leading Yankees.

Still, at 45-40, Baltimore's first-half record is 10 1/2 games better than it was a year ago.

Tigers: Something to build on for Fister
Fister pitched in 11 games and posted a 1.79 ERA for the Tigers last season after being acquired from the Mariners.

Injuries have limited the right-hander to 11 games so far this season, and the results have been far different. Fister owns a 4.75 ERA to go along with a 2-6 record, and he's 1-3 with an 8.85 ERA over his last four starts.

Catcher Gerald Laird saw some progress on Saturday, when Fister threw six innings for a win over the Royals, despite giving up four runs on eight hits and walking more than he struck out.

"He left a couple pitches up and struggled with his command, but he settled down and made pitches and kept us in the lead," Laird said afterward. "It obviously wasn't his best outing, but it's one that he can build off of."

• Delmon Young has homered in four straight games, going 6-for-14 with six RBIs in that span. Austin Jackson is riding a career-high 15-game hitting streak, during which he's batting .400.

Orioles: Always a chance with Hammel
One significant reason for the Orioles' strong first half was Hammel, who has gone 8-5 with a 3.47 ERA after being acquired from the Rockies during the offseason.

But the right-hander, a Final Vote candidate for the AL All-Star Team, also has lost three straight starts with an 8.10 ERA. The Orioles couldn't provide him with any support on Saturday, when he gave up three earned runs in 6 2/3 innings in a 3-0 loss to the Angels.

"He's given us a chance to win pretty much every time out," manager Buck Showalter said afterward. "We couldn't ask for more, and knowing Hamm, he's not going to take any feel-good from that. He pitched as well as any guy can for the most part."

• The Orioles are hoping to activate right fielder Nick Markakis and backup catcher Taylor Teagarden from the disabled list to start the second half. Teagarden has been out all year with a back injury, while Markakis last played on May 29 and is recovering from right wrist surgery.

Worth noting
• Fister has a 7.59 ERA in two career starts at Camden Yards.

• After this series, the Orioles will hit the road for eight games, while the Tigers will head home for seven.

• This is the first meeting of the year between Baltimore and Detroit, which split 10 contests last season.

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