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Left-hander Ashur Tolliver on being called up by Orioles: 'I couldn't write it any better'

Orioles pitcher Ashur Tolliver.
Orioles pitcher Ashur Tolliver. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

HOUSTON — Left-hander Ashur Tolliver and his Double-A Bowie teammates trudged off the field after a second straight extra-inning loss Monday in need of a boost. It came in the form of a postgame announcement in front of the entire team, made by pitching coach Alan Mills, that Tolliver would be a big leaguer the next day.

"He had a big smile on his face, and then he was kind of swarmed by the team," Mills said. "I got a glimpse of his face for a second, and after that his teammates came up, congratulated, gave him hugs. It was a good time."

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If Mills could see him nearly a day later, tired from an early cab ride and a flight from Connecticut to Houston, he'd see that smile was still there. The next time Tolliver takes the field, the 2009 fifth-round draft pick will accomplish something that his 2012 labrum surgery made improbable.

"It's great," Tolliver said. "I couldn't write it any better. I think going through everything has made it that much better. Just thinking about it, I'm so blessed to be an Oriole. I love it here. I'm so glad I signed back here. Just the familiarity with the guys, the front office people, all the coaches from Low-A to the big leagues, just getting to experience it here makes it extra special."

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Tolliver will fill the vacancy left by the trade of left-hander Brian Matusz, who along with a 2016 draft pick was dealt to the Atlanta Braves on Monday for two minor league pitchers.

He could find himself in action immediately — the Astros had five left-handed hitters in the lineup Tuesday against the Orioles.

Tolliver, 28, had a 2.42 ERA in 18 appearances for Double-A Bowie, after striking out 61 in a career-high 58 2/3 innings with the Baysox in 2015. He dealt with shoulder problems that threatened his career, but got his first major league opportunity today.

"He's just gotten a little better every year," manager Buck Showalter said.

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"Tolliver was in spring training" as a nonroster invitee, executive vice president Dan Duquette said. "He threw well. He's done well in Double-A. He's earned his opportunity. He's worked hard for this opportunity."

Mills said Tolliver's combination of his 90-93 mph fastball that touches 95, plus his changeup and breaking ball, will play well at this level.

"He has a very fast arm," Mills said. "The ball moves; it has late hop in the zone. To me, his second-best pitch is his changeup. His changeup is a very good pitch, and his breaking ball is good as well. He's a good pitcher. You don't get a call to the big leagues — you don't even get to Double-A and play here night after night unless you can do some things. He's capable of getting guys out at any level, including the big league level."

There were some roster implications in the decision, Showalter said. Others considered, including the trio of lefties in Triple-A Norfolk that include Andy Oliver, Zach Phillips, and Edgar Olmos, would need to be added to the 40-man roster, and did not have options to be sent back down.

"We had some people that we were considering that were out of options, that we would lose going back if we made another move," Showalter said. "For what our needs were at this point, Ashur was the best option. We had a lot of good ones. Four or five that Dan and I were talking about with [pitching coach Dave Wallace] and [bullpen coach Dom Chiti]. Just felt, for where we were right now, this would be the best move for the time being. Could be forever, I hope. Hope he takes it and runs with it. I know he does."

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