By Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun
8:55 PM EDT, August 31, 2012
— The Orioles arrived at Yankee Stadium with a new left-hander in the bullpen on Friday, but not much more relief experience from the left side. It's something that could prove critical in playing left-handed heavy lineups like the Yankees through the season's playoff push.
Don't, however, count Orioles manager Buck Showalter among those concerned about the lack of experience.
Veteran left-hander Randy Wolf officially joined the team before Friday's game and was available in the bullpen, but Wolf has made just five relief appearances in his major league career. Before this season, Wolf hasn't pitched out of the bullpen since 2001.
Combine that with Brian Matusz, who has been converted into a reliever for the stretch run, the club's two left-handed relievers have combined for seven career appearances out of the bullpen.
Facing a team like the Yankees — which started six left-handed hitters Friday night against right-hander Miguel Gonzalez — will present a challenge for the Orioles.
"How do you get that experience?" Showalter said. "Just like we've been giving it to Brian. Everybody in this ballpark at some point was inexperienced, including me, so we think they're good options. Both of them have the ability to pitch [with] some length too, which is always good."
Wolf said he knew coming in he would be used in relief, and he didn't have a problem with that. His top priority was to pitch for a contender, but the 36-year-old said coming out of the bullpen will be an adjustment.
"Literally, you always have to be ready," Wolf said. "I think the hardest adjustment for me is the physical routine that I go through every day. As a starter, I come to the park and I know this is my long run day, this is my lift day, this is whatever I do for my shoulder.
"As a reliever, if you haven't pitched in a while, you have to be ready to pitch every day. Obviously, there are times when, if you pitch two or three innings, you know you're not going to pitch that day and you can do a bigger workout. It's definitely a change to the routine, but you have to be ready for that."
Matusz, who was 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA in 16 starts, has thrown 2 1/3 scoreless innings in two relief appearances, allowing just one hit, striking out three and walking one.
That's still a small sample size. With left-hander Troy Pattonstill on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle, the Orioles could call up another left-hander. Patton just began throwing off flat ground from 60 feet on Thursday.
Showalter suggested that the organization is looking at possibly calling up one non 40-man roster player. That would likely be Triple-A Norfolk left-hander Zach Phillips, who is 2-2 with a 3.17 ERA and seven saves and has thrown eight scoreless outings in his last 10 appearances. Phillips was one of the final 25-man roster cuts coming out of spring training.
Orioles to add three players for roster expansion
Outfielder Xavier Avery, utility man Steve Tolleson and catcher Luis Exposito were with the team on Friday and will be called up before Saturday's game when rosters expand.
Showalter said the trio joined the team Friday because Saturday's day game would have presented a challenge in getting them to New York in time for first pitch.
All three spent time with the Orioles earlier this season and are already on the organization's 40-man roster.
Exposito's presence as the third catcher will allow Showalter to DH Matt Wieters , as well as pinch run for him late in games. Avery, who stole 22 bases in 29 attempts this season, is a optimal pinch-runner threat, and Tolleson spent time at second, third, shortstop and left, giving the Orioles some positional flexibility for the stretch run.
"Talking to [Norfolk manager Ron Johnson] down in Triple-A, they were the guys that he strongly recommended, with some others," Showalter said. "We're still not through there".
The Orioles can also add players from Norfolk once the season there ends on Monday. Left-hander Zach Britton will join the team to start Tuesday in Toronto, and right-hander Jake Arrieta will also likely return to the big league club.
Right-hander Tommy Hunter is slated to throw one or two innings on Saturday for Double-A Bowie and should also join the Orioles in Toronto.
Around the horn:
The Orioles' weekend series in New York will be chronicled on the new MLB Productions series "Caught Looking" this week. The one-hour program will be broadcast on Thursday at 9 p.m. on NBC Sports Network. … The Orioles entered Friday's game on pace to win 90 games. … The Yankees tweaked their rotation for the remaining two games of the series. Left-handed David Phelps, originally slated to pitch Sunday, will start Saturday and Phil Hughes will start Sunday's series finale. … Catcher Steel Russell, the son of Orioles bench coach John Russell, was promoted to Class-A Delmarva. Steel was drafted in the 32nd round this June out of Midland (Texas) Junior College. … Infielder Sammie Starr, promoted from Delmarva to Triple-A Norfolk, became the 75th different player to play for the Tides this season, setting a new International League record.
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