T.J. McFarland's five shutout inning relief outing in the Orioles' 4-2 loss to the Royals on Friday night preserved the team's bullpen, giving the Orioles some hope of salvaging their three-game weekend series at Kauffman Stadium.
And the reward McFarland, whose 66 pitches were the most he's thrown in relief in 22 months, will likely receive on Saturday is a trip to Triple-A Norfolk.
The Orioles will activate left-handed Brian Matusz off the disabled list on Saturday, and McFarland will likely be optioned to make room for Matusz.
McFarland was likely to be used Friday if there was a long relief need, but when right-hander Yovani Gallardo left Friday's game after just two innings with shoulder discomfort, McFarland was pushed into service earlier than anticipated.
"We didn't know [about the injury] down in the bullpen," McFarland said. "We had no idea. All we knew is that the phone was ringing. Once it is ringing and kind of out of the ordinary, we kind of all start stretching and get an idea that something is going on.
"I don't want to come in in the second or third inning, but that is why I'm down there to give length to the bullpen," McFarland added. "I was just happy and fortunate enough to get out of there without any runs and keep our team close."
Not only did McFarland give much-needed innings, but he kept the Orioles in the game. He was the first Orioles reliever to throw at least five scoreless innings in relief since Rick Bauer on April 10, 2004 at Tampa Bay.
"That's really hard to do against that club," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of McFarland facing a lefty-heavy Royals lineup. "They've got a lot of left-handed hitters who hit left-handed pitching well, too.
"You see why Mac is so valuable on our club," Showalter said. "It seems like it's happened about 10 times with us that he's come in and kept our bullpen fresh. He's a guy who makes all those guys better in the bullpen."
One key caveat of optioning McFarland on Saturday is so he serves the mandatory 10 days he must remain in the minors (barring a DL move) in time to rejoin the Orioles for their three-game series against the New York Yankees on May 3-5.
McFarland will be needed for that series against a Yankees lineup with its share of left-handed hitters. McFarland has pitched his best against the Yankees, recording a 2.05 ERA in 26 1/3 innings against New York and holding the Yankees to a .222 batting average.
Showalter said after Friday's game that Vance Worley, who threw 10 pitches in a scoreless eighth inning, would be available for Saturday's game and that Matusz could pitch multiple innings if needed. Matusz, who has typically been used in a lefty situational role, threw four and three innings in his last two minor league rehab starts.
The Orioles will also have to make room for right-hander Kevin Gausman to be activated off the disabled list to start on Monday. The club could option right-hander Tyler Wilson, who will start on Saturday, or right-hander Mike Wright, who is Sunday's starter, to make room for Gausman.
Another factor at play is the status of Gallardo, who is slated to see team orthopedist Dr. Michael Jacobs in Baltimore on Saturday. If Gallardo needs to go on the disabled list, the Orioles could use that move to make room for Gausman. But they could also wait to put Gallardon on the DL and use that move to bring either McFarland, Wilson or Wright back before the mandatory 10-day minor league option window, something the Orioles have done in the past to help add an extra arm with a quick turnaround.