OAKLAND (CBS/AP) — The Athletics are in a serious funk at the plate and hope the possible return of slugger Yoenis Cespedes will help shake them out of the slide.

Cespedes is finishing up a rehab assignment in the minors and could be activated from the disabled list before Sunday’s series finale against Baltimore.

That would be a significant boost for the Athletics, who have dropped three straight at home following a miserable East Coast road trip.

“Cespedes is probably one of the best players on this team so it is definitely going to bode well for us,” said third baseman Josh Donaldson, who matched his career high of four hits in Oakland’s 7-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday. “As a team in general we are going to get better right away with him coming back.”

The A’s need all the help they can get. They’ve lost eight of nine overall and fell to 0-10 when held to under four runs.

Since putting together a nine-game winning streak earlier this month, Oakland has lost 10 of 14 while dropping three of four series.

Baltimore can complete its first four-game sweep of the Athletics at the Coliseum since 1987 with a win Sunday.

“It’s been tough the past week or so,” losing pitcher A.J. Griffin said. “We need to focus on what makes us good. What makes us good is playing loose and not pressing.”

That’s been tough to do against Baltimore.

The Orioles have outscored the A’s 20-5 while taking the first three games of this series. They’ve also had three solid outings from their starting pitchers.

Nick Markakis and Adam Jones hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning to back six strong innings from starter Chris Tillman, who won for the first time in five starts this season.

Nate McLouth also homered for Baltimore, which is 3-0 on its 11-game road trip.

Tillman scattered seven hits with seven strikeouts and two walks. He also had to bat in the seventh inning after an injury to catcher Taylor Teagarden forced the Orioles to abandon their DH.

“I was able to get into a little bit of a rhythm later in the game,” Tillman said. “I was able to make some big pitches with my off-speed, which I wasn’t able to early in the game, and it got me going.”

McLouth finished with three hits and two RBIs to spearhead Baltimore’s offense.

Tillman (1-1) settled down after a rocky start to earn his first win since Sept. 28. The right-hander, who was 9-3 a year ago, retired eight of his last 10 batters and picked off Donaldson at first in the sixth after the A’s third baseman led off the inning with a single.

That gave Baltimore’s bullpen a break and followed stellar starts by Jason Hammel and Wei-In Chen.

Brian Matusz, Darren O’Day, Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson pitched the final three innings to complete the Orioles eighth win in their last 10 games. Johnson pitched out of a bases loaded, no-out jam in the ninth for his 10th save

Griffin (2-2) allowed only five hits in seven innings but gave up two home runs for the second straight start.

Tillman got off to a slow start but limited the damage.

Donaldson doubled in Brandon Moss in the second, then drove in Seth Smith in the third with a sharp comebacker that appeared to ricochet off Tillman’s heel and into the air behind second base.

Markakis tied it with his two-run home run on a 1-2 pitch, then Jones put the Orioles up 3-2 with his line drive over the wall in left-center. It’s the first time this season Baltimore has hit back-to-back homers.

J.J. Hardy’s hit-and-run single later in the inning scored Chris Davis from first base to make it 4-2.

The game was halted briefly in the bottom of the sixth when Teagarden left with a dislocated left thumb after getting hit in the hand by a foul ball. Teagarden was replaced by Matt Wieters, who was originally in the lineup as a DH.

The change forced Tillman to bat for just the second time in his career, and the right-hander struck out looking to end the seventh.

McLouth led off the eighth with his first home run of the season, then Davis had a sacrifice fly to drive in Manny Machado.

Ryan Flaherty added an RBI double in the ninth.

The A’s scored once in the eighth on Josh Reddick’s sacrifice fly then loaded the bases in the ninth. But Johnson got Smith to fly out before Jed Lowrie grounded into a game-ending double play.

NOTES: The A’s honored their 1973 World Series championship team during pregame ceremonies. Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Rollie Fingers were among the former players who took part. … Orioles RHP Miguel Gonzalez (2-1) makes his first career start against the A’s in the series finale. He’ll oppose RHP Bartolo Colon (3-0), whose 32-inning streak without a walk ended in his most recent outing against Boston.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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