HOUSTON — As the Orioles complete their four-game series at Minute Maid Park this afternoon, they hope to avoid being swept in a four-game series for the first time since Sept. 20-23, 2013, a series in Tampa Bay that all but killed their playoff hopes two years ago.
The Orioles have now lost five straight and are a season-worst six games under .500 at 23-29.
We've learned two things this series: 1. The Orioles are a flawed team right now. 2. The Houston Astros are for real.
J.J. Hardy will miss his third straight game with discomfort in his left side, but both Hardy and manager Buck Showalter are encouraged that the Orioles shortstop can start in Friday's series opener in Cleveland.
In fact, Hardy felt so well following some tee work and 15 swings in the indoor batting cage that he went into Showalter's office and told him he could play today. Showalter will give him an extra day, although he could be available off the bench this afternoon.
Showalter still hasn't announced his starter for Sunday afternoon's game in Cleveland. After throwing four scoreless innings at Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday, right-hander Bud Norris would be scheduled to start that day, but it's also rookie right-hander Mike Wright's day to pitch.
The decision could hinge on whether the Orioles receive a ruling on left-hander Brian Matusz's appeal hearing by then. If Matusz has to begin serving his suspension, the Orioles would be down a man in the bullpen. One consideration would be sending Wright to the bullpen to put it at full strength.
The plan is still for Matt Wieters to be activated from the 60-day disabled list before Friday's game in Cleveland and make his season debut that night against the Indians. The Orioles won't have to make 40-man roster space to add Wieters – they already have that – but they will have to make 25-man space. Showalter has said it will be difficult to carry three catchers, so Steve Clevenger could be the odd man out.
They would also have to make 25-man space for Norris before he returns to the rotation.
How inflexible is the Orioles roster right now? Showalter will start three left-handed hitters – Chris Davis, Travis Snider and Ryan Flaherty – against Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who has held lefties to a .123 batting average this season.