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Jason Hammel to miss at least a month after surgery

The Orioles will be without their top starting pitcher for at least a month now that right-hander Jason Hammel has decided to have loose cartilage surgically removed from his right knee.

Hammel, who was forced out of Friday's game because of intense pain in the knee that has been bothering him periodically for two months, is expected to have the procedure done Monday morning by Orioles orthopedist John Wilckens.

"Obviously, it is not what I want to do, but it is what needs to be done," said Hammel, who was 8-6 with a 3.54 ERA in 18 starts. "I can't keep pitching on a bad leg and start doing things with my arm and hurting things there. Obviously, [I'm] bummed out. But it's going to be a pretty routine surgery, figure a few weeks, maybe four weeks, hopefully for the return. That'll get me back in time to still be able to help the club."

Hammel planned to have surgery in the offseason to remove the loose bodies. But when the cartilage lodged itself in a joint, it became painful to bend his knee. And there was no guarantee that rest and strength exercises — which he has done this season — would alleviate the issue. Immediate surgery became the prudent choice, with a hopeful return in August.

"It could be later than that; it could be earlier than that if I was a superhero," Hammel joked. "I don't know, we'll see."

Orioles manager Buck Showalter is planning on Hammel not returning before September. If he progresses quickly, Showalter will consider that a pleasant development.

"I think it is smart for me, personally, to plan that way … I'd rather look at the worst case," Showalter said. "I think I'll have a better feel for it when Dr. Wilckens gets out of there and [reports] what he found."

It'll be difficult for the Orioles to replace Hammel, who has had an All-Star caliber first half. For now, Showalter has not named his starter for Wednesday in Minnesota, which would have been Hammel's spot.

It won't be lefty Brian Matusz, who was sent down to Triple-A on July 1. He made one good start for the Tides and was scheduled to pitch again Sunday night for Norfolk. Showalter said he believes Matusz, who was 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA in 16 starts, should get more work in the minors before another recall.

"I'd rather him pitch [Sunday for Norfolk]," Showalter said. "He needs to pitch there."

The most likely option for Wednesday is right-hander Tommy Hunter who has a 4.46 ERA in three starts for Norfolk and a 6.11 ERA this year in 15 games for the Orioles. He would be on regular rest. Other alternatives could include Miguel Socolovich, who is primarily a reliever.

"We have options," Showalter said. "We're trying to bridge between what's best for the players and their development and what's best for us on Wednesday."

Britton gets ball Tuesday

Showalter made official Sunday what had been speculated for a while: Lefty Zach Britton will make his season debut for the Orioles on Tuesday in Minnesota.

Sidelined by a shoulder injury in March, Britton started his season on the disabled list and then was kept at Norfolk after his rehab assignment ended. Britton, who was 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA in 28 starts for the Orioles as a rookie in 2011, was 4-1 with a 4.15 ERA in eight starts for the Tides this year.

The 24-year-old lefty had a rough beginning at Triple-A, but is 3-0 with a 2.81 ERA in his past five starts.

"Zach got all the way down that he finally figured out he was a Triple-A pitcher trying to get back to the major leagues," Showalter said. "It wasn't about, 'A rehab and then I'll come up here.' And he's earned it."

Andino has MRI scheduled

Second baseman Robert Andino, who left Sunday's game in the sixth while diving for a grounder, saidX-rays on his left shoulder were negative, but he was staying behind in Baltimore for a MRI on Monday.

"For me, I don't think I'll go on the DL, though. It should be like a few days, hopefully," Andino said. "For me to come out of the game, it's got to be something. X-rays are negative. I got nothing torn, nothing separated. Just waiting for the MRI tomorrow and just go from there."

Andino dove onto the lip of the outfield grass and, "my arm got stuck, but I kept sliding."

He said he feels soreness — "like a little cramp" but not pain. Showalter said no moves would be made regarding Andino until the club had definitive MRI results.

Around the horn

Right-hander Steve Johnson (St. Paul's) was activated Sunday when Hammel was put on the DL. Johnson pitched two innings in his major league debut and then was sent back to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday evening to make room for Monday's starter, Chris Tillman, on the 25-man roster. … Reliever Stu Pomeranz (torn oblique) was having some back issues and therefore did not begin his rehab assignment Sunday in Sarasota. It has been pushed back a couple days, Showalter said. … Teagarden's game-winning homer Saturday night was the first in franchise history hit by a player in his first game as an Oriole. The last time someone accomplished that in the majors was April 4, 2005 by Joe Randa in his first game with Cincinnati.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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