BALTIMORE -- The Houston Astros are considered to be one of the most avid pursuers of the Baltimore Orioles' ace left-handed closer Zach Britton, and with the non-waiver trade deadline approaching July 31, it seemed appropriate they were in town.
Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow planned to talk with Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette this weekend about Britton.
After the Astros' 8-7 win against the Orioles before 25,784 at Oriole Park July 21, Houston's record is 64-32, and while they've lapped the field in the American League West, they have big plans for October.
Britton, who hasn't missed on a save opportunity since Sept. 20, 2015, is considered a prize catch, and if the Orioles' whose four-game winning streak came to an end, want to deal him, they'll want multiple prospects from Houston.
The Astros have one of the best farm systems in baseball, and while there are other suitors linked to Britton, it's somehow convenient they're on hand this weekend.
Ubaldo Jimenez, who had his best performance with the Orioles June 29 when he pitched eight shutout innings in Toronto, allowing two hits, has had rocky times since then.
The right-hander, who gave up six runs on 10 hits in 5.1 innings, has allowed 21 earned runs in 19 innings in the four starts since June 29 for a dreadful 9.95 ERA.
"I guess I'm leaving a couple pitches up and they're making me pay for it," Jimenez said. "I don't get any break, even when they hit it soft, they find the hole."
Jimenez allowed five runs in the first two innings, and within the first nine batters, Houston managed to hit for the cycle against him.
"Sometimes they hit the ball hard and they hit it right at someone," Jimenez said. "I'm in this spot right now where they hit it soft and they find the hole; they hit it hard and it's going to be out of the park."
The Orioles, who lost three straight to Houston in late May, are back to four games below .500 (46-50), and will spend the next several days continuing to scout other team's farm systems and making crucial decisions on this year and beyond.
After having just eight hits -- all singles -- and two runs in the first eight innings, Baltimore nearly came all the way back in the ninth.
Scoring five runs, their most productive ninth inning of the season, the Orioles got within 8-7.
"We've come back from a couple of those deficits recently. It does cast a little challenge that you don't want to see every night," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Especially this time of year when it's hot and sticky. [Jimenez] wants to pitch well. He really wants to. It's not like he's trying not to pitch well. We get some pure shutdown innings from the bullpen tonight and it's a different situation."
Center fielder Adam Jones doubled for two runs, and second baseman Jonathan Schoop hit a three-run home run against Houston right-hander Chris Devenski.
First baseman Chris Davis bunted back to Devenski for the second out, and right-hander Ken Giles struck out designated hitter Mark Trumbo to end the game.
Since Davis returned from the 10-day disabled list July 14, he's hitting .133 (4-for-30) with three home runs and a double. He thought if he got on with a bunt, Trumbo could win it with a homer.
"Honestly after the first couple of pitches, I just felt like I wasn't really seeing the ball well," Davis said. "I saw [Devenski] move over, and I went for it. I thought, if I can get it down over there, and keep it fair, I've got a chance and then we have a chance to win the game.
"I know it's easy to sit back and say, 'well you could have hit a home run.' But, you know lately it's been pretty much feast or famine. I thought it was an aggressive move, obviously. I felt like that was my best shot in that at-bat."
The near meltdown in the ninth illustrated why Houston may be so serious about acquiring Britton.
COMING UP: Right-handers Chris Tillman (1-5, 7.20) and Collin McHugh (season debut) are the scheduled pitchers July 22.