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BAL@WSH: Hammel gives up three runs over 5 1/3 frames

While Thursday's off-day might have come at the perfect time for the Orioles, the Royals might be better off without it.

Baltimore is coming off a stretch of 20 games in 20 days, which ended with a loss to the Red Sox on Wednesday. The gauntlet took a toll on the injury-ravaged Orioles, who have eight players on the disabled list, and the club rested regulars J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters on Wednesday so the two could heal their nicks and scrapes.

"An off-day is welcome to everybody to get a little rest and to be ready to go when we come back Friday," Wieters said. "It's nice to get a day off, more than anything just to get the body rested."

Few are likely to find that day more valuable than Friday's O's starter, Jason Hammel, who has been nursing a sore right knee for the past three weeks.

Hammel stormed out to a 4-1 start with a 2.09 ERA, but he has sputtered in two starts since his knee pain became a factor, allowing a combined nine runs in 10 1/3 innings to raise his ERA to 3.12. In each of his past two outings, Hammel started off strong and tired quickly, giving up all of his runs in the fourth inning or later.

Hammel has been trying to strengthen the knee with work in the pool and on an elliptical machine, but progress has been slow.

"Obviously, I want to be getting deeper into ballgames, but the knee is just not cooperating right now," Hammel said. "I'm doing everything we can between starts to build strength and get to those sixth, seventh, eighth innings."

The Royals have been on a grind of their own, playing a game in each of the last 13 days. Still, for a team that started 11-19 before going 6-6 during that stretch, a day off could end up being a momentum-killer. And while the Orioles have gone 3-0 in games following scheduled off-days, Kansas City hasn't won such a game. The Royals are 0-3 following scheduled off-days and have lost twice following rainouts.

Bruce Chen, who pitched for the Orioles from 2004-06, is a fitting choice to take the mound in an attempt to keep the Royals' turnaround going. He's won three consecutive starts after beginning the season 0-4.

Orioles: Avery making an impact
• Xavier Avery singled in the first inning of Wednesday's 6-5 O's loss and has reached base safely in nine of his past 10 games.

Avery was 2-for-4 on Wednesday, bumping his average to .273 in 11 games since being called up from Triple-A Norfolk on May 13. He also recorded the second stolen base of his young career and recorded his first outfield assist.

• Adam Jones went 2-for-3 with a walk, a single and a double on Wednesday, extending his hitting streak to 15 games -- the longest by an O's player this season.

Royals: Francoeur getting hot
• Right fielder Jeff Francoeur has been on fire of late, hitting .326 in his past 11 games. He's racked up three doubles, a triple and three home runs and has scored seven runs. He went 1-for-4 in Kansas City's series-ending 8-3 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday.

• Left-hander Will Smith made his Major League debut on Wednesday in the Bronx and had a rough go of it, surrendering five runs on six hits, including three home runs, in just 3 1/3 innings.

• Kansas City's bullpen has struck out 145 batters this season. The unit led the American League entering play on Wednesday.

Worth Noting
• The Royals and Orioles have had opposite fortunes in games decided by two runs or fewer. Kansas City has posted a 7-14 record in such games, while Baltimore is 16-6.

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