An Orioles starting rotation that has found its footing over the past month lost a key piece Tuesday when right-hander Andrew Cashner was scratched from his Wednesday start and placed on the 10-day disabled list with a lower back strain.
Manager Buck Showalter said Cashner began to feel back spasms shortly after his most recent start, Friday night’s 5-1 loss in Toronto. His back improved, but not to the point that he would be able to start the series finale against the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards.
“It might have been the four days on the turf there in Toronto,” Showalter said. “He thinks [that] had something to do with it. He’s got a little bit better each day, but not to the point where he can start tomorrow. … We were aware of what might happen, but there just wasn’t much improvement in the last couple days to put him out there and potentially in harm’s way or have him pitch just one or two innings and have an issue.”
The Orioles hope Wednesday’s start will be the only one Cashner will miss, and a schedule that includes two days off over the next week will help that timetable. The DL move can be backdated to Saturday, so he is eligible to return Tuesday when the Orioles open a three-game series at Nationals Park in Washington.
“Structurally, we think we’re OK,” Showalter said of Cashner. “He’s kind [of] tried a lot of things — chiropractor, the needling, all the different stuff they do with all of that stuff. It’s more of a spasm that they can’t get out of there in time to start [Wednesday]. And what’s causing the spasm, from what I’m told, is more important. I know it’s the day after the [Monday] off-day is when he could pitch again. That means he only misses one start, because we have two off-days. That’s very rare during this span.”
Since struggling starter Chris Tillman’s landed on the DL — and the ensuing arrival of rookie right-hander Davis Hess — the starting rotation has been the least of the Orioles’ struggles. Since Tillman’s last start May 10, the rotation has a 4.57 ERA, which while pedestrian, is significantly better than the 5.84 mark it had before that date, which was the highest in the majors.
Like his fellow rotation mates, Cashner — whose eight losses are tied for most in the American Leagueentering Tuesday — has been hurt by poor run support. The 1.54 runs he’s received per start are the fewest among Orioles starters, and the team is just 3-10 in games he’s pitched, despite the fact that he’s had quality starts in six of his 13 starts and has allowed three or fewer runs in six of his past seven starts.
The move forced the Orioles to scramble to supplement the pitching staff — and find a starter for Wednesday. They recalled left-handed reliever Donnie Hart from Triple- A Norfolk for Tuesday’s game, and summoned right-hander Yefry Ramirez to be activated Wednesday as a candidate to start that day.
Ramirez is 3-4 with a 4.33 ERA in 12 starts with Norfolk this season.
Orioles right-handed reliever Miguel Castro was also a candidate to start Wednesday, but was used in relief Tuesday night.
Showalter said he was hesitant to commit to Castro because of how important a role he plays as a multi-inning reliever.
“He’s such a versatile piece, it’s hard to get through days without using him periodically,” Showalter said of Castro, who entered Tuesday with a 2.84 ERA in 38 innings and has held opponents to a .216 average.
Ramirez received a big-league call up in April but was with the team for just one day and didn’t pitch. Since then, he’s improved his case. Ramirez is holding hitters to a .230 average while averaging more than a strikeout per inning. He has allowed two runs or fewer in six of his past seven starts at Norfolk. His most recent start for the Tides was Friday, when he threw five scoreless inning and allowed just three hits against Toledo.