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Orioles notes: Zach Britton improving, but set to see hand specialist for final clearance

Orioles closer Zach Britton won't play catch until Monday at the earliest, despite a clean MRI that showed no problems in his left elbow and only inflammation in his forearm.

Britton, who went on the disabled list last Sunday with a left forearm strain, is waiting to see a hand specialist who he said can come in and give the team possible ideas on strengthening the area so the soreness he's been dealing with doesn't come back.

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"I can throw without some of the hand doctors," Britton said. "This is more of a strengthening thing. It's not getting permission to play catch from the doctor. It's just another person that maybe deals with forearms more often than our doctors do, just to see if there's another way that we can strengthen it so we don't have an issue again."

Britton said that otherwise, the MRI he had Friday was "really good, and I was feeling good every day."

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"This kind of kept us on track," he said. "I think I'll talk with one of the doctors today. A hand doctor is coming in. … But right now I feel good. I feel like I can play catch, but we want to wait to actually talk to those doctors and let them look over that inflammation and see if there's anything we can do that we're not doing to strengthen it. That's really what we're worried about, not really treatment but what can we do for this not to come back?"

Britton had pitched six times in the first nine games of the year, converting five saves but enduring some shaky outings en route to those, especially by his own high standard. Manager Buck Showalter said the problem in Britton's forearm was coming from how his fingers pressure the ball.

"That's where he had a little discomfort," Showalter said. "That's all gone today. In fact, I talked to him on the way down here. Once they clear all that, which we expect on Monday, I'm hoping and Zach is expecting we'll get him throwing. That's the last piece we have to cross over."

Showalter said it could require one or two rehabilitation outings, with Britton saying he'd prefer to have the uncertainty of his first outing in a setting that didn't potentially put the rest of the major league bullpen in a bind if it turned out he wasn't ready.

Tillman shifted to Bowie: Right-hander Chris Tillman's rehab start Saturday was shifted to Double-A Bowie, as early rain forecasts made his planned start for High-A Frederick ominous. The Keys' matinee was rained out, so he pitched for the Baysox at at Harrisburg.

"Every day we can pick up with Chris to get him back, we're going to take advantage of that," Showalter said.

Tillman allowed three runs on five hits in 3 2/3 innings, striking out three and walking none. He threw 58 pitches, 37 for strikes.

The next rehab start is scheduled for Thursday at Potomac for Frederick, and he'd stay lined up to be pitching for the Orioles as early as May 2.

Santander still exists: Rule 5 outfielder Anthony Santander, who is on the DL with shoulder and elbow injuries that lingered from spring training, is "improving," Showalter said.

"I look at it every day," Showalter said. "He's throwing to bases now, and we're hoping we're getting closer to him playing. I know that was one thing I'd asked Dan [Duquette] about when we were looking for roster spots, about [using the 60-day disabled list] on him, but they think he might be available before that. We'll see if that's still an option or not. He's doing well."

Santander must spend at least 90 days on the active roster to stick with the club this year, and DL time doesn't count. He also cannot be optioned to the minors under Rule 5 draft stipulations.

"He's a good one," Showalter said. "I'm going to tell you, it's going to be a tough year to get him through and get the 90 days, but we would really like to keep him."

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Around the horn: Outfielder Seth Smith (hamstring) is available to pinch hit, Showalter said, though the Orioles want it to be a meaningful situation if they do use him since it would prevent him from being able to have a possible disabled list trip backdated to Tuesday, when the injury occurred. … Outfielder Joey Rickard (sprained finger) hit batting practice off the coaches Saturday and will do so Sunday before possibly going out on a rehab assignment.

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