Right-hander Jason Hammel took the first major step toward returning to the Orioles in September, throwing from a mound Friday for the first time in nearly four weeks and feeling no discomfort in his right forearm.
"It went real well, 44 pitches and command of all pitches. It felt great," said Hammel, who hasn't pitched in a game since losing to the Boston Red Sox on July 28. "I felt the extension that I was looking for that I didn't have before. So, outstanding."
Diagnosed with a strain of the flexor mass in is right arm, Hammel has had difficulty getting full extension on his delivery, which particularly affected his slider. He said that was only an initial concern Friday, when he threw roughly 30 pitches from the stretch and the rest from the windup.
"In the back of my head I was thinking about it," Hammel said. "But after the first couple I was like, '[The pain's] not there, it's good. So I'm good to go.'"
Hammel, the club's Opening Day starter who is 7-8 with a 5.20 ERA in 21 starts this year, will throw about 60 pitches during a mound session Sunday. If he's pain-free, he likely will begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment Wednesday or Thursday with the goal of returning to the Orioles by the first or second week of September.
"Hopefully," Hammel said when asked if Sept. 8-10 would be a realistic return. "Hopefully before that, that'd be great."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he expects Hammel will need to make at least two rehab appearances before returning to the majors, and the first will definitely be a start. After that, he could be used in the bullpen in a rehab outing and when he returns to the majors — something Hammel did toward the end of the 2011 season while with the Colorado Rockies.
"I would think, for sure, his first appearance there would be as a starter. Just to make sure he starts an inning and gets time to warm up and all that for sure," Showalter said. "And then also there's things that could change up here which dictates that he needs to come back in a certain role."
Showalter left open the possibility that Hammel could return before Sept. 1 — to help in the bullpen — if a need arises and he is healthy and ready. He wouldn't be stretched out for a start that soon.
"Ham's got some things going for him. He's healthy coming back, we think," Showalter said. "If you look at him, history-wise, before we acquired him he really pitched well for Colorado, the last month of the season. At that time it was out of the bullpen, so it opens up some possibilities both ways for us. That gives us a lot of confidence that he's got a chance to pitch well for us in whatever capacity the rest of the way."
Hammel just wants to come back.
"The fewer [rehab appearances] the better," he said. "I don't want to be doing too much work in the minor leagues. I'd rather save my bullets for up here."
** How popular has Orioles slugging first baseman Chris Davis become this year?
His scheduled autograph signing from noon to 1 p.m. Friday at the AT&T store in Columbia was absolutely packed. Some fans stayed overnight in the parking lot Thursday night — as if it were a rock concert — and it was estimated that more than 500 people attended the event. Davis had agreed to autograph items for at least 200 people in the hour, but he signed for over 300, the club estimated.
One teenage girl was so excited to meet the majors' home run leader that she was hyperventilating by the time she reached Davis. He joked later that he wanted to hug her for her support but was afraid that wouldn't help the situation.
** Showalter said that the team’s trade of Freddy Garcia to the Braves was more of an ethical decision by the front office to give the veteran right-hander an opportunity to pitch in the major leagues again. Garcia, who was pitching for Triple-A Norfolk, didn’t appear to be among the pitchers who were going to receive a September call-up to the Orioles when rosters expand.
"Freddy's going to be in the big leagues for them, and we weren't sure that that's where we were going to go — for sure," Showalter said. "I think he deserved that opportunity. Now, if we're playing the Braves in the World Series and he's sticking it to us, we'll probably regret it. But, in the long run, this is what's best for Freddy and his career, and I applaud Dan [Duquette] and the organization for doing it the way they did it."
** Showalter also announced that Scott Feldman will be available out of the bullpen tonight and possibly tomorrow in as an extra reliever, but if he doesn't pitch, he will start Sunday's series finale against Oakland.
The Oakland Athletics have shifted their rotation for the series, removing lefty Tommy Milone, who was scheduled for Saturday. Instead, right-hander Jarrod Parker will pitch Saturday against Chris Tillman and rookie right-hander Sonny Gray will pitch Sunday against Feldman.
** The Orioles are offering 50 percent discounts on all tickets for Saturday, Sunday and the Sept. 5-8 series at home against the Chicago White Sox for fans who make a $10 donation to the American Heart Association. For more details, visit www.orioles.com/aha.