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BAL@NYY: Matusz tosses 6 1/3 frames of one-run ball

The Orioles have jumped out to the best record in the Major Leagues, and the competition is paying attention.

Take, for example, the Rangers. Texas will open a four-game series at Camden Yards on Monday night, well aware of what Baltimore has accomplished.

"They're in a tough division and they're playing as well as anybody in baseball right now," Rangers left fielder David Murphy said. "Obviously, when you look at that division, the Red Sox and the Yankees always get the credit, and teams like Baltimore at the beginning of the season are not given a chance.

"But they have definitely proved themselves early. They have a lot of talent and they're doing everything they need to do to win. We'll definitely have our hands full the next series."

Looking for their sixth straight win and 12th in 14 games, the Orioles will send a resurgent Brian Matusz to the mound against Matt Harrison. Despite losing four of five, the Rangers lead the American League West at 18-10, while Baltimore moved percentage points ahead of the Rays in the East with a 17-inning win over the Red Sox on Sunday.

"I always thought they had some good young hitters," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They've figured it out and are really playing well together. Now their pitching is coming around. They're getting great pitching."

Matusz has been part of that lately, emerging from a streak of 13 straight starts with at least four earned runs allowed. He snapped that run on April 26 and kept things going Tuesday against the Yankees, when he picked up his first win since last June 6.

After posting a 7.98 ERA in his first three outings, Matusz has held the opposition to one earned run in his last 12 1/3 innings, striking out seven.

"Game by game, I'm feeling like I'm getting better and better, being able to make those pitches and get out of an inning and not letting things escalate," Matusz said. "It feels good to be able to go out there and attack the zone with confidence, to be able to come away with it."

Rangers: Harrison tries to stop skid
Harrison began his season 3-0 with a 1.66 ERA but has absorbed consecutive rough outings, giving up 14 earned runs in 8 1/3 innings.

His 5.40 ERA is the highest on the team after an eight-run slog against the Blue Jays on Wednesday.

"Early in the count, I would throw my best offspeed pitches. And when I had two strikes to put them away, I wasn't hitting my spots where I wanted to throw them," Harrison said. "My offspeed pitches I thought were breaking pretty good, but when they break over the plate, they have a better chance of being hit."

• Third baseman Adrian Beltre didn't start for the fifth straight game on Sunday with a strained left hamstring, but the Rangers expect him back in the lineup on Monday. He could get the nod at designated hitter, with Michael Young at third base.

Against the left-handed Matusz, Yorvit Torrealba likely will catch, pushing Mike Napoli to first base. Josh Hamilton probably will slide to left field so Craig Gentry can start in center.

Orioles: A hiccup for red-hot Davis
First baseman Chris Davis became the first AL position player since 1968 to win a game as a pitcher when he threw the final two innings on Sunday.

That offset an 0-for-8, five-strikeout performance at the plate that halted a 14-for-35 stretch. Davis was hitting .326 with a .944 OPS entering play on Sunday.

Davis, whom Texas traded to Baltimore last year, nonetheless has shown marked improvement in 2012. He entered the season with a career .252 batting average and a .749 OPS.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter explained that Davis has been letting the ball travel deeper into the strike zone before starting his swing and hasn't been getting himself out.

"He's such a strong young man that he can let that ball get deep, the whole ballpark's in play for him," Showalter said. "He can do a lot of things, has good range with the bat. He's been putting himself in the position to take advantage of that."

• Nick Markakis has an .894 OPS in 54 career games against the Rangers, his highest mark against any AL team.

Worth noting
• Both teams recently began stretches 20 games in 20 days through May 23. The Orioles are kicking off a nine-game homestand, while the Rangers are finishing a 10-game road trip.

• The Rangers went 5-1 against the Orioles last season, including 2-1 in Baltimore.

• In 65 plate appearances, current Rangers are batting .362 with a .431 on-base percentage and a .552 slugging percentage against Matusz.

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