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As Miguel Gonzalez nears return, Orioles contemplate how to handle rotation

Before Thursday's series opener against the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards, Orioles manager Buck Showalter took a step back from his statement Wednesday that a six-man rotation could be a possibility once right-hander Miguel Gonzalez returns from the disabled list.

Gonzalez, who threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings in a minor league rehabilitation start for Double-A Bowie on Wednesday can be activated as early as Sunday, but he likely wouldn’t return until Monday. Showalter also said he'd like to keep Wei-Yin Chen on schedule, and the left-hander is expected to make his next start Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

“He’s close,” Showalter said of Gonzalez. “The earliest you could use him is Sunday, and that would be with three days' rest after throwing 70 pitches, and that would be out of the bullpen, if there’s a need. I’d like to not do that. And then the options would be to start him Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday [against Tampa Bay]. … And the other one is for him to start one more time [on a rehab assignment]. We’ll see how things develop the next couple days and see what our options [are], what things might show up to tilt it one way or the other. I know that he’s physically sound and ready to return to us shortly.”

Gonzalez said he hopes to make his next start in the major leagues.

“I’m hoping,” Gonzalez said. “That’s my goal. It depends on what moves we’re going to make and what’s going to happen. I can’t worry about that. I’m going to be out here cheering for the guys. We’re doing a good job now.”

That decision could also hinge on when third baseman Manny Machado serves his suspension. Machado has appealed the five-game suspension in hopes of getting it reduced, but he also could drop the appeal.

When Machado does serve the suspension, the Orioles would have to add an extra infielder -- likely recalling Steve Lombardozzi from Triple-A Norfolk -- to use in a utility role because they would be down an infielder in Machado’s absence.

That would force the Orioles to go to 11 pitchers, so a six-man rotation wouldn’t work there.
But that doesn’t mean the club still couldn’t utilize the starters by matchups.

Gonzalez has pitched well against Tampa Bay, going 3-3 with a 3.55 ERA and holding the Rays to a .234 batting average.

Also, both Gonzalez and right-hander Kevin Gausman, who starts tonight, could be used as relievers to aid a short bullpen if Machado must serve his suspension.

Next Thursday’s day off will be an important day. Even though that won’t count as a day served for Machado, it will give the bullpen a recovery day heading into the Orioles’ weekend series against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

Still, Showalter said this is the time of the season when teams are aiming to get their starters in a routine.

“They need to get the ball every fifth day,” Showalter said. “They need their work day. They need to know there’s no doubt [in] the stuff they do between starts. There’s a fine line there. If somebody physically needs it ... It’s that time of the year now, I think just about all of our pitchers are looking toward a set every fifth-day thing.”

Gonzalez said his right oblique felt good during his rehab start in Bowie.

“As first, I was a little timid in the first inning, just trying it out, and after that, I got loose and it felt good throughout the whole game,” Gonzalez said. “I was happy about it.”

Gonzalez added that he’s open to the idea of a six-man rotation.

“Whatever [Showalter’s] thoughts are, we’re going to go with it,” he said. “We’re going to roll with it, and anything he tells us to do, we’re doing it. … I haven’t been in that situation before, but having that extra day might help all of us. You never know. We can try it out, and if it works, we’ll go with it. If not, we can just go back to what we’re doing.”

Here are tonight's starting lineups:

Orioles

Nick Markakis RF
Delmon Young DH
Adam Jones CF
Chris Davis 1B
Nelson Cruz LF
J.J. Hardy SS
Manny Machado 3B
Jonathan Schoop 2B
Caleb Joseph C
Kevin Gausman RHP

Blue Jays

Jose Reyes SS
Melky Cabrera LF
Jose Bautista RF
Edwin Encarnacion 1B
Adam Lind DH
Brett Lawrie 2B
Dioner Navarro C
Juan Francisco 3B
Anthony Gose CF
Mark Buehrle LHP

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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