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OAK@TOR: Straily shuts out Blue Jays through seven

A pair of playoff contenders will square off on Friday night at Camden Yards, with the A's making the cross-country trek to Baltimore to begin a weekend series with the Orioles.

After dropping two of three at home to the Mariners, the A's begin a crucial 13-game stretch that also includes meetings with the Tigers, Rays and, most important, the Rangers, whom the club trails by 2 1/2 games for the division lead in the American League West.

But in Baltimore, Oakland will face one of the teams hot on its heels in the AL Wild Card race. The A's hold the second spot over the Indians and Orioles, who have lost seven of their last 11 to fall 5 1/2 games off the pace in the AL East.

The A's will call on Dan Straily, while the Orioles turn to Bud Norris for his fifth start in a Baltimore uniform since being acquired from Houston in a non-waiver Trade Deadline deal.

Winless since July 9, Straily has been hampered by a lack of run support, receiving a combined three runs over his past six outings. He struggled out of the gate in his most recent start, walking two and giving up two runs in the first inning, but he eventually settled down and surrendered just one more run through 5 2/3 innings.

"It wasn't exactly like I was keeping the ball down," Straily said after the loss. "I felt like I had good stuff tonight. I just wasn't sure all the time where it was going. It looked a lot better, I feel like, than it probably was."

As for Norris, he won his previous start, against the Rockies, working 5 2/3 innings and giving up four runs, but the 28-year-old has been bothered recently by a stiff back.

"I started to feel it a little bit," Norris said, "so I'm just going to take care of it, and it's not going to hamper me too much. I've got an extra day this week, which will be big. But you are going to have nagging stuff this time of year, and you're going to have to fight through it."

A's: Smith sidelined with eye issue
Seth Smith was unavailable for a second straight game on Wednesday because of astigmatism. He wasn't even at Coliseum since he was seeing doctors, but he was expected to board the charter flight to Baltimore on Thursday.

"I'm not sure how long it's been bothering him," manager Bob Melvin said. "Hopefully, we have him Friday in Baltimore."

Smith, who typically starts only against right-handers as the designated hitter, hasn't been in the lineup since Saturday. He's batting .241 with six home runs and 33 RBIs on the season.

Orioles: Club gets surprise visit
Despite their recent rough stretch, the Orioles have managed to keep the mood light in the clubhouse as they try to get back into the postseason race, and Wednesday afternoon was no exception.

Several members of the Maryland Table Tennis Center club were in the clubhouse hours before the series finale against the Rays, with the Orioles pitted against some of the best young players in the world.

"Nobody in here [was] able to get their serve back," manager Buck Showalter said after taking in some of the games, which caused a lot of laughter and good-natured ribbing as the table-tennis players easily bested the professional athletes.

Worth noting
• The A's are 45-20 when scoring first this season, but one of those losses came on Wednesday, against Seattle.

• Chris Davis needs just four doubles to become the 12th Major Leaguer to record at least 40 doubles and 40 homers in the same season. Comments