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J.J. Hardy expected to start the season on the DL

Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy during a Grapefruit League game at Ed Smith Stadium.
Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy during a Grapefruit League game at Ed Smith Stadium.(Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

The Orioles will be without another former All-Star on Opening Day.

The club learned Monday that three-time Gold Glove shortstop J.J. Hardy is headed to the 15-day disabled list with a muscle strain in his left, nonthrowing shoulder.

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Hardy will not be able to participate in baseball activities for at least 10 days — keeping him out of the season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 6 and the April 10 opener at Camden Yards.

With the backdating of injury transactions, the earliest Hardy could return to the active roster is April 11, but that appears unrealistic given the prescribed layoff and a period needed to get his offensive timing back. An exact timetable is unknown, but Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the injury is "nothing that would reach into May."

"We're still optimistic," Showalter said. "What's unoptimistic is something that might require surgery or be longer than the time frame that they're thinking."

Hardy jammed the shoulder when he collied with the ground and second baseman Jonathan Schoop Friday while diving and sliding for a ball. He hadn't played since, but said Monday morning that his shoulder had improved dramatically and he was not overly concerned about a DL stint. Regardless, the club decided to send him for a precautionary MRA — an MRI with injected dye.

"It was kind of questionable (if) we need to do it, because I feel so much better," Hardy said Monday morning before taking the test. "But I think they just want to know everything that's going on now, instead of maybe having to deal with it again two weeks from now. So I feel pretty positive about the improvement over the past few days."

The MRA detected a strain of the subscapularis, a muscle below the shoulder blade, causing Hardy to be shelved through the start of the season.

"What they expected to find, they found. Just a matter of how long (he'll be out). By looking at the MRA, it would be prudent to wait to clear it all the way up," Showalter said. "It's pretty good news, all things considered."

Hardy is now the third Oriole expected to begin the 2015 season on the disabled list and second former All-Star. Starting catcher Matt Wieters could be out for much — or all — of April as he recovers from 2014 Tommy John elbow surgery. Reserve outfielder David Lough also is expected to land on the 15-day DL with a hamstring and back injury.

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To replace Hardy, the club's defensive glue, the Orioles likely will look to infielders Ryan Flaherty and Everth Cabrera. Those two were fighting for the utility infielders' job, but now it appears both likely will make the Opening Day roster along with Schoop and infielder-outfielder Jimmy Paredes.

One additional player — likely someone already on the 40-man roster — will make it to Opening Day, but then be sent out following that game. Slugger Chris Davis, who must serve the final game of his 2014 suspension for amphetamine use, will then be activated from the restricted list.

Cabrera, a former All-Star, is a natural shortstop, and Flaherty has played 39 games at the position in his three-season big league career. Third baseman Manny Machado and Schoop also can play shortstop, but both are expected to remain at their current positions.

Hardy, 32, felt like he was having the healthiest spring of his career before Friday's dive. He was playing his usual strong defense and was 7-for-30 (.233) with two doubles in Grapefruit League games.

Last year, he missed 16 games due to back, hamstring and thumb injuries.

This isn't the first time Hardy has had left shoulder issues. He missed his entire minor league season in 2004 when he had surgery to repair tears in his left labrum. In 2008, while with the Milwaukee Brewers, he missed five games with a left shoulder strain.

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He was hoping to be out a few more days, play later this week and then start Monday at Tropicana Field. That won't happen now.

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