Hernandez makes return to O's lineup

The Baltimore Sun

When catcher Ramon Hernandez wasn't in the Orioles' Opening Day lineup because of a strained left oblique muscle, team officials considered him day-to-day and were hopeful that he'd be in the lineup soon. Three and a half weeks later, Hernandez made his season debut last night against the Boston Red Sox.

After going 2-for-6 with a double in a two-day rehab assignment with Single-A Frederick, Hernandez was activated from the disabled list before the game. Manager Sam Perlozzo had considered giving Hernandez a day off and inserting him into the lineup tonight against the Cleveland Indians, but the catcher told the manager before the game that he was ready to go.

"I don't feel like there was any reason to hold him back now," Perlozzo said. "We missed him. The two guys have done a great job backing up, but when you miss your starting catcher, it's a little different in both sides - catching, throwing and it's a big bat. He might be a little slow starting ... but it gives us a big bat and gives you more balance in your lineup, makes you stronger one through nine."

To make room for Hernandez on the 25-man roster, the Orioles designated Alberto Castillo for assignment. Castillo hit .174 in eight games while serving as Paul Bako's backup. The Orioles have 10 days to trade Castillo or release him. Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said he is confident that Castillo will accept his assignment to Triple-A Norfolk if he clears waivers.

Meanwhile, Hernandez, who was one of the Orioles' most valuable players in 2006, hitting .275 with 23 home runs and 91 RBIs, was optimistic that it wouldn't take him long to find his swing. He proved correct, going 2-for-3 with a walk.

"Some guys take two weeks, some guys take one week, some guys take four games," Hernandez said before the game. "You start playing and you get the whole feel when you start getting better."

Hernandez said he is pretty much pain-free but admitted fear that he could aggravate the injury.

"Taking [batting practice], I don't feel nothing, so why wait longer, you know what I mean?" he said. "Just come out and play, that's the only way to see if it's totally right or not. ... That's always a point, you might get it back. But that's a risk everybody takes when you're in there, and you get hurt and you come back."

Perlozzo said the club will keep a close eye on Hernandez, and it is unlikely, at least early on, that he'll play a night game followed by an afternoon game.

Payton tested

Orioles outfielder Jay Payton, who made his fifth straight start yesterday, still feels soreness in his left hamstring, but he felt that he passed a major test Wednesday night while trying to beat out a ground ball to Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo. Payton broke out in a full sprint trying to get an infield hit, stretching out his leg trying to get to the bag.

"If [the hamstring] was going to blow, it was probably going to blow right there," said Payton, who started the season on the DL after straining his left hamstring late in spring training. "I am hoping that was a good sign."

Front and center

Lost in the bullpen's problems in Wednesday's loss was center fielder Corey Patterson's leaping catch at the wall, denying Manny Ramirez an extra-base hit. Patterson made a similar catch earlier on the homestand, taking a home run away from the Toronto Blue Jays' Lyle Overbay. The catches confirmed the Orioles' belief that Patterson is one of the league's most underrated defensive center fielders.

"I think he can go get them," Perlozzo said. "He's made a couple of really nice catches so far this year, and we're lucky to have him. I think he is underrated."

Around the horn

Orioles pitcher Jaret Wright threw a side session yesterday and pronounced himself ready to come off the DL and start Sunday in Cleveland. ... Frederick right-handed pitcher Chorye Spoone (CCBC-Catonsville) was named Carolina League Pitcher of the Week after winning his two starts last week. Single-A Delmarva outfielder Brandon Tripp was named South Atlantic League Player of the Week after batting .545 with two home runs, six RBIs, two steals and seven runs.


Sun reporter Stephen Whyno contributed to this article.

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