Blackburn looks to continue roll as A's host Orioles

OAKLAND, Calif. -- When Paul Blackburn was recalled from Triple-A Nashville, the Oakland Athletics didn't know what to expect.

After his first seven starts, they can't wait to see more.

Blackburn (3-1, 2.60 ERA) will take the mound Friday night to oppose Baltimore veteran Ubaldo Jimenez (5-7, 6.31) as the teams play the second contest of a four-game series.

The 23-year-old right-hander, who grew up in nearby Antioch, Calif., is coming off his most impressive outing, Saturday: He went the first 6 2/3 innings of a combined 5-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Angels. It extended his streak of tossing more than five innings in each of his seven starts.

"There was a certain level of expectation when he got here, and it's probably more so now that he's pitched really well for us," Athletics manager Bob Melvin said.

Blackburn isn't getting caught up in his early success. He's trying to replicate a similar routine he had at Nashville where he would study video of hitters he would face in his next start, talk strategy with his catcher and try to maintain an even keel when it came time to take the ball.

Funny thing, though. Blackburn was only 5-6 with a 3.05 ERA in 15 games (14 starts) with Oakland's top minor-league affiliate.

"Every one of the hitters you face up here in the lineup is a good hitter," Blackburn said. "I'm just trying to stay within myself and not try to do much more. I want to pitch how I know to pitch."

Melvin & Co. are impressed with Blackburn's ability to give the team quality starts when they've been hard to come by. A's starting pitchers have allowed four or more runs in 11 of their last 13 games, and they have tossed fewer than four innings five times over that stretch.

"Right now we're having a little trouble with innings in the rotation," Melvin said. "He's been the guy who has been out there. For a guy who pitched into the seventh inning maybe only once in the minor leagues, he's gotten to that point for us several times."

Blackburn, who grew up a Giants fan, isn't taking anything for granted. He is making it a point to try and get at least into the sixth inning to help set up the bullpen and keep his last-place team in games.

"You're going to come across good and bad outings up here -- that's just the game and how it works," Blackburn said. "It's just limiting those bad outings and turning them into just OK outings. For me putting the team in any situation to win is kind of what I try to do every time out there."

His manager and teammates appreciate what Blackburn has delivered to this point.

"I know the guys like playing behind him," Melvin said. "He works quick, he puts the ball in play and guys are on their toes for him."

The 33-year-old Jimenez doesn't have flashy numbers this season, but he has enjoyed career success against Oakland. Jimenez is 4-1 with a 4.66 ERA in seven starts against the A's, who have struck out 39 times in 38 2/3 innings against the right-hander. He also has walked 23 Oakland batters.

Jimenez also would like to continue his most recent success, a win in his last start (12-3 over Detroit on Saturday) and a no-decision during seven strong innings in a 2-1 victory over Kansas City on July 31 that followed three straight losses for Jimenez.

"It wasn't pretty, but I got the job done," Jimenez said after his win over the Tigers. "I was happy that I was able to compete. ... They took a good approach hitting the ball to the opposite field. But the guys picked me up. They scored a lot of runs and played great defense."
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