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Hernandez on his recent solid start vs. Blue Jays

The Rays have played 1,207 games since they last used a starting pitcher they signed as a free agent. They've played 1,060 games since they last used a starting pitcher older than 30.

When Roberto Hernandez -- the 32-year-old right-hander the club inked to a one-year deal in December -- takes the hill on Thursday against Baltimore, those streaks will both come to a halt.

Hernandez gets thrown right into the fire, too, tossing the rubber match against the American League East-rival Orioles. Baltimore claimed the final AL Wild Card spot last season, while Tampa Bay was left on the outside looking in, three games back. Both figure to contend in the AL East again this season.

The Orioles send right-hander Miguel Gonzalez to the mound, and he'll be making his first appearance since earning his first career spot on an Opening Day roster.

"I think things happen for a reason," Gonzalez said. "Last year I was nowhere to be found, and this year they gave me a chance to be the third starter."

A very vital contributor down the stretch last season, Gonzalez went 9-4 with a 3.25 ERA for Baltimore in 18 games (15 starts).

As for Hernandez, he went 0-2 with a 5.33 ERA in six spring starts with the Rays, earning the rotation's fifth spot -- even though he's pitching in the club's third game.

"Hopefully a lot of ground balls, and hopefully we're standing in the right spots," Rays manager Joe Maddon said when asked what he'll be looking for out of Hernandez. "That's it, I'm just curious to see it. I'm eager to see it. I think he's going to have a very good season. He's excited about it, himself."

Hernandez, who had spent his entire career with Cleveland (the majority of it coming when he was known as Fausto Carmona), signed a $3.25 million contract in the offseason.

The last free agent to start a game for Tampa Bay was Hideo Nomo on July 15, 2005. The last pitcher over 30 years old to start for the Rays was Mark Hendrickson on June 25, 2006 -- Maddon's 76th game as Rays manager.

Orioles: Leading off by committee
Nick Markakis led off for Baltimore in Tuesday's season opener, and it was Nate McLouth who got the call on Wednesday.

The Orioles will likely rotate the top spot in their order depending on the opposing pitcher and the current trends within their own lineup.

"There's multiple guys capable of doing that, of leading off," McLouth said. "[Markakis] is good at it, but he's also a good run producer. He's good in either position, and I'm happy to hit wherever, too.

"Maybe it's for a day, maybe it's not. Maybe it's for a while. But I'm comfortable leading off, I'm comfortable hitting second, eighth, wherever."

Rays: Maddon likes team D
Sure, every team says its motto is "pitching and defense." But few squads have exemplified that over the past half-decade better than the Rays.

Last season, however, was a bit of a down year in the fielding department for the club. Now that Evan Longoria is healthy and the Rays have made a few other additions, Maddon believes his club is back as a defensive force.

"When you look out at the field and you feel like it's quality at every spot, that's really a nice feeling," Maddon said. "We have quality at every spot, even when we move things around."

Tampa Bay is errorless in its first two games.

Worth noting

• Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters is hitting .367 with five homers in his 32 career games at Tropicana Field. He is 3-for-7 with a double, homer and three RBIs in this series.

• Hitters on the current Rays roster are batting just .186 against Gonzalez. Ryan Roberts and Desmond Jennings each have homers against the right-hander.

• The Orioles snapped Fernando Rodney's 19-inning scoreless streak with a ninth-inning rally on Wednesday night. Brian Roberts' RBI double scored Nolan Reimold, ending the streak, which spanned 19 games dating back to last season.

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