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Orioles notes: Castillo nearing return; different paths for lefty relievers Hart, Bleier

Just like when he missed two weeks with shoulder tendinitis earlier this year, Orioles catcher Welington Castillo is emphatic that he can return to the major league fold without a rehabilitation assignment.

This time, the Orioles might oblige him.

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Manager Buck Showalter said this week that he could activate Castillo (testicular injury) from the disabled list Saturday after a few days of simulated games. Castillo took batting practice Tuesday and threw to bases Wednesday, and said Wednesday that "it's all mental at this point."

"I've just got to go out there and put on my gear and have fun and compete like I always do. I'm not going to be thinking about it," he said.

The team was extra cautious after a deflected pitch ricocheted into his groin area and caused a blood clot, but Castillo said he now feels well enough to start playing right away. Fellow catcher Caleb Joseph, who suffered a similar misfortune last season on a foul tip, gave Castillo a Kevlar protective cup to use before Castillo's own shipment from Nutshellz arrives, and is counseling him through the return.

"He's been hanging out with me and talking a lot about it," Castillo said. "He gave me the new cup, the bulletproof [one], just in case. But I feel great. That's all that matters, and I can't wait to get back to the lineup to help the team win."

He hopes that comes Saturday, and without a minor league assignment in between.

"That's what I think," Castillo said. "Whatever they're thinking or they may do is their business, so I'm just here to do my job and play whenever they need me to play, but I feel good to go. I don't think that I could go anywhere."

Though he has played just 29 games because of various injuries, Castillo leads the Orioles with a .317 batting average and had an .805 OPS at the time of his most recent injury on May 30.

Hart sent out: Left-hander Donnie Hart was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday with the same message that he got a few weeks ago when he was sent out: get back to what you do best.

"Donnie needs to get back to some of the things he was doing to be successful," Showalter said. "This is a guy that basically skipped the Triple-A level, so it'd be good for him to establish himself down there.

"That's a hard job, and some people say an easy job. It's real black and white. You keep the good left-handed hitters in the park and you get the other ones out. You defend yourself against the right-handers and keep them in the park. …. He understands the job descriptions. It's tough, but it's also pretty well-defined, and he's done it at times for us this year, and he will again. I have confidence that he will again."

Hart has a 4.32 ERA in 23 appearances this season, and opponents are batting .314 off him this year. Showalter said Hart will join a number of pitchers down at the highest farm system affiliate who recently earned a reminder that performance down there will get you back to the majors.

He said Tides manager Ron Johnson recently had that talk with some of his pitchers there, and he cited that discussion with Hart.

"RJ had a meeting the other day with the guys in Triple-A, and there's a reason why someone like [Stefan] Crichton comes back," Showalter said. "They go down there and they do real well. He spent one day going down, pitched the day he got there and pitched two or three shutout innings and has done it again and again. They control it, really, and guys sitting down there with 5.00, 6.00 and 7.00 ERAs, it's hard to have a lot of confidence about bringing them back. They need to pitch well at that level."

Bleier a survivor: Last week, Showalter said left-hander Richard Bleier began to pitch better once he stopped looking over his shoulder after every outing expecting to be optioned down after every outing.

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Bleier, who entered Wednesday with a 2.35 ERA in 11 appearances over two major league stints, said he agrees with that assessment.

"I do think so," Bleier said. "I think that the circumstances that were in place were fine. It's understandable for sure, but I think that as I've pitched and made it to the next day, you kind of just focus on pitching a little bit more as opposed to getting sent down — not that that was all I was thinking about. But it's in the back of your mind a little bit, and I think the more comfortable I can get, the better off I'll be in terms of quality."

Around the horn: Showalter said Wednesday's starter for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Delaware native Chad Kuhl, was on the Orioles' draft radar as a promising local prospect but was selected before they had the opportunity. … Showalter said the team was not consulted on playing Thursday's makeup game in Washington earlier than the scheduled 7 p.m. start. The Orioles have to travel to New York for a three-game series after the game.

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