After lasting just 2 1/3 innings Wednesday in his first big league start since July, lefty Zach Britton's next appearance seemed tenuous.
It's now expected to happen within the next week — for the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds.
Britton, 25, was optioned Thursday to the only Orioles minor league affiliate that is still playing — the IronBirds kick off their first playoff series in team history Friday night against the Tri-City ValleyCats (Houston Astros) at Ripken Stadium. Britton could pitch for Aberdeen Sunday or, potentially, Tuesday, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
Showalter said he wanted Britton to get back on the mound as quickly as possible so he doesn't end his season with his rough outing in Cleveland. So, he is likely going to pitch a postseason game for Aberdeen, with whom Britton hasn't played since 2007.
"He's eligible to pitch there. That's another good thing about having clubs in the playoffs," Showalter said. "I'd like to get that taste out of his mouth, if I could."
When asked if he thought Britton could work through his problems quickly in the big leagues, the manager said that becomes difficult to do with the Orioles attempting to make their own postseason.
"Zach came off two or three good outings [in the minors], especially the last one," Showalter said. "If we had the luxury of a lot more games, it might be a little different situation."
Britton, who was unavailable for comment Thursday, is 2-3 with a 5.45 ERA in seven games for the Orioles this season. He walked 17 batters and struck out just 16.
Showalter said Britton hasn't been ruled out for a return to Baltimore this season, but he also could be sent to Sarasota, Fla., to work on things.
Once considered the top pitching prospect in the organization, Britton has not been able to build on 2011, when he won 11 games as a rookie. He will be without minor league options going into next spring — meaning the Orioles won't be able to send him to the minors next March without putting him on waivers — and Showalter said he hopes that motivates the lefty the way it did right-hander Chris Tillman this spring.
"I have no doubt he's going to come in and have a great spring next year, I really do," Showalter said. "He's in a good situation, career-wise next spring, a lot like Tillman. Just want him to come to spring training … like Tilly did."
Hammel off DL; likely in bullpen
Jason Hammel, who has been on the disabled list since July 31 with a flexor mass strain in his right forearm, was activated Thursday but likely won't pitch before Saturday, Showalter said. Because the starting rotation is set through Sunday, it's expected that Hammel, at least initially, will pitch out of the bullpen. He has been exclusively a starter for the Orioles but spent some time in the bullpen in 2011 with the Colorado Rockies.
"You probably won't see him physically available until Saturday. In an emergency, maybe Friday," Showalter said. "Obviously, he's pitched well as a starter at times, and for the most part, pitched real well for Colorado out the 'pen before we acquired him. So, it's good to have a couple of ways to go with that."
Hammel, the club's Opening Day starter who has made 21 starts this year (7-8, 5.20 ERA), said he'll do whatever is needed. He was just excited to re-join the club.
"It was tough watching the guys on TV," said Hammel, who allowed one earned run in 6 2/3 innings over two minor league rehabilitation starts. "I want to be there with them. And be able to go through the ups and downs together. But it is what it is right now. So, obviously, I know I can help and I just tried to get back as quick as I could."
Steve Johnson returns
Right-hander Steve Johnson, who was not part of the club's initial September call-ups from Triple-A Norfolk and had headed to Sarasota to keep his arm in shape, was recalled Thursday. He'll likely be used out of the bullpen, Showalter said.
"Obviously, he's an option to go either way," Showalter said before Thursday's game. "He's had four days off. This would be his normal throw day."
Johnson (St. Paul's) was 1-1 with a 7.82 ERA in six games (one start) with the Orioles and 2-3 with a 4.11 ERA in 10 games (eight starts) for the Tides. He had two disabled list stints this year, including missing considerable time with an oblique strain.