By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- The Miami Marlins are struggling offensively, and it may be tough to snap out of a slump against Jeremy Hellickson and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Marlins attempt to snap their four-game losing streak to the visiting Rays on Friday night, when they face Hellickson for the first time in the opener of a three-game Citrus Series.
Miami (31-26) batted .172 average and got outscored 21-3 while losing all three home games this week to Atlanta, culminating in Thursday's 8-2 defeat. It marked the first time getting swept in their new ballpark for the Marlins, who had entered the series winners of seven of nine.
"We're in a little slump right now," Thursday's starter and loser Mark Buehrle said. "That's what happens when you face good teams and good pitching."
Facing the Rays (32-25) may only continue the Marlins' offensive woes.
Miami went 2-4 against Tampa Bay last season, and batted .159 while losing the last four meetings. Still, Rays manager Joe Maddon is wary of the Marlins.
"They're good, they're very good," Maddon told the Rays' official website. "We saw them during spring training, they've gotten their stuff together right now. Their pitching is really good."
One of the strongest Tampa Bay pitchers is Hellickson (4-2, 2.69 ERA), who is making his Citrus Series debut.
The right-hander could use some help from Tampa Bay's bats. He has a 2.60 ERA over his last seven starts but is 1-2 in that span, largely due to a total of 12 runs in support.
Hellickson allowed two runs - one earned - with eight strikeouts in 6 2-3 innings Saturday against Baltimore, but watched the Tampa Bay lineup muster just two hits in a 2-1 loss.
Tied with Baltimore atop the AL East, the Rays are coming off perhaps their best performance at the plate in more than two weeks. They collected five doubles among their 10 hits in Thursday's 7-3 win over the New York Yankees, avoiding a three-game sweep after totaling one run through their first two games in the Bronx.
It was a rare strong offensive showing for Tampa Bay, which has hit .173 as a team while dropping six of its last nine.
Center fielder B.J. Upton has been a recent bright spot, going 6 for 16 with two doubles, a triple and four RBIs in his last four games. He has had little success against the Marlins, though, hitting .229 in 18 career meetings.
Giancarlo Stanton was not to blame for Miami's poor series against the Braves, homering Thursday and notching a hit in each contest. He is batting .441 with five home runs and 11 RBIs in his last 10 home games.
The Marlins will give the ball to Ricky Nolasco (6-3, 4.35), who has surrendered 18 runs in 9 1-3 innings while losing his last three starts to the Rays. The right-hander won his first two career starts against Tampa Bay, but has not defeated the Rays since June 15, 2008.
Nolasco allowed four runs and eight hits in seven innings of Saturday's 5-4 victory at Philadelphia, but is 2-3 with a 6.59 ERA over his last five outings after going 4-0 with a 2.72 ERA in his first six starts of 2012.
Updated June 8, 2012