The Orioles received clarity regarding injuries to two key players on Monday's day off, including word that the club will be without starting shortstop J.J. Hardy for approximately four to six weeks with a hairline fracture in his left foot, according to an industry source.
Additional tests on closer Zach Britton's injured left ankle were more positive for the Orioles as an MRI performed Monday revealed no structural damage. In fact, it is believed that Britton could return during the Orioles' three-game series against the New York Yankees, which begins today at Camden Yards.
The Orioles feared worse news on Hardy after he fouled a ball off his foot in the fourth inning of Sunday's 7-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox. Hardy remained in the game but was removed shortly after when his foot stiffened on him.
An X-ray taken Sunday prompted further tests. The club initially called the injury a left foot contusion, but tests revealed more than a bruise.
The Orioles must now prepare to be without Hardy — a three-time Gold Glove Award winner who is the team's defensive leader in the infield — possibly until mid-June. Since the beginning of the 2012 season, the Orioles are just 32-46 without Hardy in the lineup.
And his latest absence will test the roster creativity of executive vice president Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter.
For now, the Orioles will recall utility man Ryan Flaherty to take Hardy's spot on the 25-man roster — Flaherty was on his way to Baltimore on Monday, and Hardy will likely be placed on the disabled list before today's game — and third baseman Manny Machado will likely shift over to shortstop to fill in for Hardy. Flaherty would be the most likely option to play at third, but veteran Pedro Alvarez, who replaced Hardy on Sunday, could also see time there.
Flaherty, who is 8-for-19 in five games with Triple-A Norfolk, doesn't have to serve the mandatory 10 days in the minors following an option as he will be recalled as part of a corresponding DL move.
The Orioles have been playing with a short, three-man bench for a week to allow for 13 pitchers, leaving the team's infield depth bare. The return of Flaherty — who can play all four infield positions, but is strongest at second base and third base — will help.
While Machado has done well when filling in at shortstop, the idea of taking the Gold Glove third baseman away from his strongest position for an extended period goes against Showalter's defensive philosophy.
That's why the team could add sure-handed shortstop Paul Janish from Triple-A Norfolk later this week. Janish, who was one of the team's final cuts this spring, is a trusted, veteran defender who is also off to a strong start at the plate (.318/.348/.333 in 19 games going into Monday).
The Orioles would need to add Janish to the team's 40-man roster, and Janish is slated to go on paternity leave for the birth of his child Wednesday.
If the Orioles added Janish, that would mean that the team would no longer have the luxury of carrying an extra reliever, something that has been paramount in preserving the team's bullpen through some short starts.
However, the Orioles starting rotation, which owns a 4.81 ERA — is showing signs of improvement. The Orioles recorded four quality starts over the past week after having just three quality starts over the season's first three weeks.
Hardy has been mostly healthy this season. His only health issue before this weekend's was a mild calf strain that cost him two games during the first week of the season.
This year, the entire Orioles starting infield opened the season healthy for the first time since Machado's first full season with the team in 2013. Last year, Hardy opened the season on the DL with a shoulder injury and battled through various injuries throughout 2015. Late in the season it was revealed that he played the entire season with a torn labrum in his left, nonthrowing shoulder that sapped his power at the plate.
Even though Britton was on crutches and wore a boot on his left foot Sunday, an MRI on his ankle — which was injured Saturday as Britton was trying to make an athletic, glove-scoop putout on a bunt down the first-base line — revealed only a sprain.
Because the Orioles will already enter this week's series against the Yankees with a short bench, a quick return by Britton — who has not gone on the DL since the beginning of the 2012 season — would help the Orioles in being able to return to 12 pitchers.