ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — After missing Wednesday night's game, Matt Wieters returned to the Orioles' starting lineup Thursday as the designated hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

Because Wieters is unavailable to catch and currently limited to designated hitter as he rests his sore right throwing arm indefinitely, Orioles manager Buck Showalter was unable to use Delmon Young in the starting lineup Thursday as he hoped.

With Wieters — a .366 hitter against Rays left-hander David Price in his career after going 1-for-3 on Thursday — in the starting lineup, it took away an opportunity for Young, who is 5-for-16 against Price in his career. Young has started twice in the past four games, and he is 3-for-8 in that span.

“It was tough,” Showalter said. “I wanted to play Delmon somewhere. The problem is that in order to get Matt in there, you have to move [Nick Markakis] to first base, you have to put Delmon in left, [Nelson] Cruz in right. You start to do some shuffling defensively. We’ll do it on a given night. I don’t want Delmon to sit too long.”

Wieters, 27, leads the team in batting average (.337) and on-base percentage (.369), so the Orioles plan to keep him in the lineup.

However, Showalter doesn’t like to use one player at designated hitter. He prefers flexibility at the position in order to get different players in the lineup and also give some regular players a break defensively.

The Orioles could start Wieters at first base while Chris Davis remains on the disabled list in order to give the club more flexibility with the lineup. Wieters took ground balls at first base during batting practice Thursday to see if that could “create another option for us,” Showalter said.

Wieters won’t be catching until the discomfort in his elbow goes away, but he could possibly play first base. He has made one career start at first base— Aug. 21, 2011 agaisnt the Los Angeles Angels.

Right-handed hitting catcher Caleb Joseph, who made his major league debut Wednesday, started again Thursday.

Davis to take BP on Friday

Davis continued to progress from his left oblique injury, taking 20 swings in the indoor batting cages Thursday. Showalter said Davis will take batting practice before the game Friday when the Orioles open a weekend series against the Houston Astros at Camden Yards.

On this road trip, Davis has resumed running and most baseball activities. He has been running for several days, and he took ground balls for the first time Wednesday. Davis said fielding grounders on his glove side was a significant step, as well as making throws to second base.

“Everything always depend on how I feel the next day, so thankfully, so far I’ve felt really good the next day after we’ve been doing a lot lately,” Davis said. “Obviously, it’s going to continue to be tested.”

Davis is eligible to come off the disabled list Sunday, and Showalter said after Thursday's game that Davis could potentially begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment Saturday.

“I think the real test is going to be starting to play games,” Davis said. “Standing on my feet for three hours, and having to start and stop and go, and not being able to warm up in between at-bats or swings like that, being outside and not in such a controlled environment. I think I’m still a couple days away, it seems.”

Davis agreed that he believes he can benefit from a few rehab games.

“[Showalter] thinks I need [at-bats], but I think it’s more to see how my body responds to a certain atmosphere,” Davis said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to jump back into things as far as feeling is concerned pretty quickly. I think it’s a good idea. Very rarely do you see a guy come off the DL and come in straight to the lineup. You kind of want to see how it responds in a game.”

Britton continues to pitch well

Having four left-handers in the bullpen — as the Orioles currently do — is unconventional, but Showalter said the combination can still be successful provided the left-handers can hold their own against right-handed hitters.

Left-hander Zach Britton, who pitched a perfect eighth inning in Wednesday’s win, has done that. He’s holding left-handers to a .129 batting average, and righties to .175.

Through Wednesday, Britton has recorded six straight scoreless outings, and four were at least one inning each. But with the Orioles in the middle of a stretch of 26 games in 27 days, Showalter said he must be careful how he uses Britton.

“To have some experience as a starter behooves you, especially with the length you have to pitch with sometimes,” Showalter said of Britton. “If he’s got the proper rest, I don’t feel uncomfortable about letting him pitch an inning-plus, but now with these games being played in a row, you have to be a little more careful about him being over extended without any off days around.”

Around the horn

Showalter said that pitching prospect Dylan Bundy, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, could pitch in a game situation in less than two weeks. Bundy threw a 50-pitch bullpen session Thursday and is scheduled to throw batting practice Tuesday, marking the first time he will throw to a live hitter since March of last year. … Pitching prospect Kevin Gausman is still expected to start Saturday at Triple-A Norfolk in his first outing since going on the minor league DL with focal pneumonia. … Showalter will travel to Texas following Friday’s game to attend the college graduation of his son, Nathan, but he plans to be back to manage the game Saturday. However, he likely will miss next Saturday’s game on the road against the Kansas City Royals to attend the law school graduation of his daughter, Allie.

eencina@baltsun.com

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