The Orioles are considering moving left-handed starter Brian Matsuz — who was sent down to Triple-A Norfolk earlier this month — to the Tides' bullpen after lefty reliever Troy Patton landed on the disabled list Tuesday with a sprained right ankle.
The front office had been considering the switch for several days, but Patton's injury made the need for a left-hander who is capable of throwing multiple innings out of the bullpen more pressing.
"It's something Brian has talked about before as something he would welcome if it would help us and also help him get back up to the big leagues," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I would surprised if he can't do it, and do it well."
The 25-year old Matsuz went 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA in 16 starts with the Orioles this year, but he has had success over his career against left-handed hitters and might be better suited for shorter stints out of the bullpen.
In four major league seasons, Matsuz has held left-handed batters to a .233 batting average, and this season lefties are hitting just .174 against him. He has a career 4.48 strikeout-to-walk ratio against left-handers.
"Until we get a couple outings of him down there, it's going to be tough to tell," Showalter said. "It might be something that doesn't work out. There's only one way to find out."
With most of the Orioles' starters being right-handed, Showalter prefers to have a left-handed long relief man to mix up the opposing lineup if needed. With Patton on the disabled list, that pitcher doesn't currently exist in the Orioles' bullpen. They traded for left-hander J.C. Romero on Monday, but he is 36 and isn't seen as a viable option for long-relief.
It's not entirely clear how many relief appearances Matsuz would need in Norfolk to get adjusted to life out of the bullpen, but Showalter indicated it might take only a couple of outings.
Patton's enthusiasm curbed
With two lefty heavy lineups ahead on the Orioles' schedule, Patton thought he was going to have a big week against Boston and Detroit.
But on Sunday, the 26-year old slipped on a curb outside his hotel and rolled his right ankle, putting him in the disabled list for the first time this year.
"It's frustrating for this team and this situation we're in facing lineups with heavy left-handed hitting lineups," Patton said. "I would be used a lot in the next few days. I feel irresponsible that I put the team in this situation."
Patton had been having his best season as a professional, going 1-0 with a 2.58 ERA while striking out 48 in 52 1/3 innings and holding left-handed batters to a .204 batting average. Because he's turned it a couple times in the past, Patton said his ankle is more susceptible to injury and rolls easier than most.
Showalter said he "hopes the ankle isn't as bad as it looks," but X-rays turned up negative and Patton is expected to return from the disabled list when he's eligible Aug. 28.
"It's extremely frustrating, very, very, very frustrating," Patton said. "I haven't felt this good as I've felt on the mound in my whole career, so it's very frustrating."
More roster moves
To clear a spot for Romero on the 40-man roster, the Orioles have designated right-handed reliever Miguel Socolovich for assignment.
The Orioles have 10 days to trade, release or ask waivers on Socolovich, who had been optioned to Norfolk after Sunday's game.
Socolovich pitched to a 6.97 ERA in eight appearances with the Orioles, but he was 4-0 with two saves and a 1.90 ERA in 28 appearances with the Tides this season, holding opposing hitters to a .179 batting average.
Romero was acquired Monday from the Cleveland Indians for minor league infielder Carlos Rojas. Romero had been 1-0 with a 2.51 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 17 appearances for Norfolk, but he was given the right to opt out of his contract after not being called up to the Orioles and signed a minor league deal with the Indians.
"At that point, we thought that was the best opportunity for me to opt out, since the bullpen was throwing so good up here," Romero said. "There weren't any weak links. I guess God intended for me to be back here, and I'm happy to be back."
The 36-year-old Romero appeared in eight games with Cleveland's Triple-A affiliate team in Columbus, Ohio, posting a 3.12 ERA. With Patton out, he's the only lefty in the Orioles' bullpen.
"Troy has gotten some big outs for us, and it's going to be a tough act to follow for J.C.," Showalter said. "But he's had some success in the past."
To fill Patton's spot on the 25-man roster, the Orioles called up right-hander Steve Johnson.The right-hander earned his first major league win Wednesday. He was sent down to Triple-A to make room for third baseman Manny Machado, but hadn't pitched for Norfolk since.
Because he was called up for a player going on the disabled list, the Orioles didn't have to wait the usual 10 days to recall Johnson.
Johnson was available in long relief Tuesday night, but he's also an option to start Friday or Saturday, depending on how much the Orioles need to use him over the next couple days.
Two three-inning starts at short-season Single-A Aberdeen were enough to convince the Orioles that first-round pick Kevin Gausman is ready to make a significant jump.
The No. 4 pick in this June's draft out of LSU will make his next start pitching for High-A Frederick, an industry source confirmed. He's skipping Low-A Delmarva.
Gausman will likely make that next start Saturday for the Keys at home at Harry Grove Stadium against the Winston-Salem Dash.
The 21-year-old Gausman has been dominant in his short pro career. He allowed just one hit in six scoreless innings for the IronBirds, striking out five and walking none. He last pitched Sunday, throwing three scoreless innings and allowing one hit while striking out three.
Around the horn
Designated hitter Jim Thome, looking for a way to help the team while on the disabled list with a herniated disk in his neck, went down to Bowie on Tuesday to help scout top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy in his debut for the Double-A Baysox. ... Right-hander Jason Hammel successfully threw off the mound Monday, the next step in his recovery from surgery on his right knee. Hammel is expected to travel with the team to Detroit later this week, and will throw off the mound again on Thursday. The next step after Thursday is potentially throwing in a simulated game on the road … Outfielder Endy Chavez and utilityman Ryan Flaherty both started for Norfolk on Tuesday, Chavez after accepting an assignment to the Tides and Flaherty to rehab after a bacterial infection…Former Orioles Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver turned 82 on Tuesday. ... A moment of silence was held at Camden Yarde before Tuesday's game in honor of iconic former Red Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky, who died Monday.
Baltimore Sun reporter Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this article.