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8/19/2013 11:27 P.M. ET

Baltimore begins challenging slate of games

BALTIMORE-- Let the homestretch begin.

With Monday's series opener against Tampa Bay, the third-place Orioles -- who entered the day 3 1/2 games behind the Rays -- embarked on a challenging slate to conclude the regular season.

Baltimore, which has two off-days remaining in August, has just one day off in September and will play almost exclusively against American League East teams with the exception of Oakland and Cleveland, both of which are in the hunt for an AL Wild Card berth.

"I haven't looked a whole lot further than the rest of this month, but I think I got it memorized," manager Buck Showalter said of his team's schedule. "There's not many teams that are not going to be potentially someone you are going to be watching the scoreboard with a little bit. So from that standpoint it should be entertaining for the fans. I don't know about the rest of us.

"It's going to be a ride, because you've got to keep your emotions and sense of reality, because the season's not going to end on one night. If you let yourself get on a roller coaster here, you will. But it's part of it. It's why we do these things, it's why we started in Spring Training -- to have the chance to do this, to play meaningful games the last month or so."

The expectation is that both the division race and the Wild Card chase will come down to the wire. Showalter said that the Orioles -- who reached the playoffs last season for the first time in 15 years -- are approaching the final 30-plus games the right way.

"It's something we should be looking forward to," he said. "Not some sense of negativity at all. Believe me, our guys aren't [negative] at all. We have a lot of respect for the competition."

On a roll, Roberts gets a view from the top

BALTIMORE -- Veteran infielder Brian Roberts is no stranger to the leadoff spot, although Monday's series opener against the Rays marked the first time this season he hit atop the Orioles' order.

"It fits us tonight with [Rays ace] David Price, trying to space out the left-handers a little bit," manager Buck Showalter said. "We think that's an important spot. Every spot is. We've seen what Robby has brought from the bottom of the order and probably will again."

Roberts entered Monday's game on a roll, hitting safely in six of seven games with two doubles, a triple and seven RBIs. And although he went 0-for-5 against Price, he's hitting .265 on the season and has started showing signs of being the Roberts of old.

"I think the game has started to slow down again," Roberts said of his recent surge. "I've made some adjustments, and that's kind of the way the season goes for everybody.

"When you've been out for three months, you've got to go through a mini-Spring Training almost. It's unfortunate that's the way it is."

Perhaps even more so for Roberts, who hasn't played a full season since 2009 and needed some time to get readjusted and feel comfortable at the plate. He has consecutive multi-RBI games for the first time since April 2011.

He's also happy hitting ninth, his predominant spot since his return.

"I'm not trying to be something that I'm not. I'm not trying to be who I was at 25," he said when asked if hitting leadoff would mean he'd try to run more.

"You adapt to who you are as you move forward, but I think in some ways I'm back to where I used to be [more] than I had been in a long time, and that's fun."

O's recall infielder Valencia from Norfolk

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles recalled infielder Danny Valencia from Triple-A Norfolk prior to Monday's series opener against the Rays, and he immediately made his presence known from the designated hitter spot in the lineup.

Valencia went 3-for-4 with an RBI double and a walk and was a bright spot in the O's 4-3 loss, improving to a career 9-for-12 off Rays ace David Price in the process.

"Wanted to get back to four guys on the bench, and Danny was a good fit for us right now," manager Buck Showalter said of the right-handed-hitting Valencia, who took the roster spot vacated by pitcher Josh Stinson.

"There are some good options for us," Showalter added. "We just felt like Danny was the best at this point. [He] went down there and played every inning at third base up until the day before yesterday, I believe. Home, away, after bus rides, Danny did his part. [I'm] really respectful of what he went down there and did. The good news is, he's not the only one doing it."

Valencia, 28, hit .216 with a .256 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage in 25 games over his previous three stints with the Orioles. He was last optioned to Norfolk on Aug. 6, when Baltimore reinstated Brian Roberts from the paternity list.

Valencia posted a .286/.326/.351 line in 65 Triple-A games, with 14 homers and 51 RBIs.

Stinson, who pitched on Saturday and Sunday in relief, was optioned to Norfolk following the Orioles' 7-2 series win over the Rockies.

Worth noting

• Pitcher Jason Hammel (tightness in right flexor mass) threw off flat ground again on Monday with no issues and will do the same on Wednesday, with the hope being that he will get on a mound on Friday.

• Shortstop J.J. Hardy, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Monday, was in the lineup after missing two games with back spasms.

• Class A Delmarva right-hander Parker Bridwell was named the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week for the period ending Aug.18. On Friday he threw eight scoreless innings, allowing two hits while striking out 14 without issuing a walk. The 14 strikeouts are the most by a Shorebirds pitcher since 2000, when Erik Bedard fanned 14 in a complete game against Hickory.

• Get an inside perspective on life in the Major Leagues at "Covering the Bases with Brian Roberts " on Friday, Sept. 6 at 11 a.m. ET at Dempsey's Brew Pub & Restaurant in the Warehouse at Camden Yards. Fans will enjoy a buffet lunch, along with a program/Q&A session with Roberts.

Tickets cost $75, with all proceeds benefiting the Kamryn Lambert Foundation's annual holiday toy drive for the University of Maryland Hospital for Children.

Each guest will also receive an autographed photo of Roberts and a ticket for the Orioles' game that night against the White Sox. A limited number of tickets are available and can be purchased online at missiontix.com/roberts or by calling 443-852-0480. All attendees who bring a new toy valued at $20 or more will be entered into a raffle to win a bat autographed by Roberts.

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.