Orioles pregame: Hammel throws off half mound, still optimistic he can return this season

BOSTON -- Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel threw a brief side session from halfway up the mound before Friday's series opener against the Boston Red Sox, the first time he threw downward since coming out of his Sept. 11 start with pain in his surgically repaired right knee.

Before throwing in the bullpen, Hammel said he his balky right knee has shown progress, but that he didn't want to throw off a full mound until he was certain the knee was pain free.

"It's starting to feel really good, but I'm not going to get on a mound and throw another pitch until it feels normal," Hammel said. "I'm not going to risk further injury."

Hammel has been throwing on the side on alternating days off flat ground.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Hammel and pitching coach Rick Adair have been talking about making an adjustment in Hammel's delivery that could take some stress off the knee.

"It was something he was actually doing at the beginning of the year," Showalter said. "We're obviously not going to pitch him if he still feels discomfort."

Hammel, who missed nearly eight weeks after arthroscopic surgery on the knee in mid-July, left his second start since returning from the disabled list when he felt the same pain in the knee. Tests showed no structural damage, and Hammel said it would only get better with rest.

"It probably would have been smarter to maybe wait another week before I started doing rehab and things like that," Hammel said. "I don't want to say I rushed it, but it probably would have helped. I probably wouldn't have had a setback, but hindsight is 20-20. It's easy to say those things. But right now we're going to be very cautious with it."

Hammel is still optimistic that he can return at some point this season.

"I'm hoping so," he said. "I'm not throwing any of that out the window. This is too much fun to miss. I don't want to consider my season over at all yet, so I'm doing everything I can to come back make sure it's strong and that I can actually be useful without [initially] feeling strong, going out there and all of a sudden in the second inning, I'm done and the bullpen's on the line again. It's not worth the risk."

Other happenings around the Orioles clubhouse today as they open their three-game series against Boston:


--  The team activated DH Jim Thome and LHP Troy Patton. Thome wasn't in tonight's lineup with left-hander John Lester starting for Boston, but he  is available for to pinch hit. Showalter said he'd like to stay away from using Patton tonight.

-- Left-hander Randy Wolf will likely start Saturday's day game, provided he isn't needed in long relief tonight. Wolf is 2-1 with a 2.73 ERA in four career starts at Fenway Park, including a seven-inning, two-run effort last year in Boston.


-- Catcher Ronny Paulino, first baseman Joe Mahoney and utility man Bill Hall have all reported to Sarasota, Fla., in case they are needed down the line.

-- Wilson Betemit received a cortizone shot in his ailing right wrist. He's returning to Baltimore to see the team doctor, but the Orioles aren't optimistic he can help them this year.

-- Chris Tillman is slated to start Sunday's series finale. Wei-Yin Chen will start one of the two double-header games on Monday. Showalter said he will wait to see how the pen is used this weekend before deciding the other starter. Showalter mentiond right-hander Steve Johnson is an option.

-- Miguel Gonzalez makes the start tonight for the Orioles. To read my feature on Gonzalez that ran in today's paper, click HERE.

Here are tonight's starting lineups:

Nate McLouth LF
J.J. Hardy SS
Adam Jones CF
Matt Wieters C
Mark Reynolds 1B
Lew Ford DH
Manny Machado 3B
Endy Chavez RF
Robert Andino 2B
Miguel Gonzalez RHP

Red Sox
Pedro Ciriaco 3B
Scott Podsednik CF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Cody Ross RF
Ryan Lavarnway C
Jarrod Saltalamacchia DH
James Loney 1B
Daniel Nava LF
Jose Iglesias SS
Jon Lester LHP