The Orioles' starting rotation, a strength during the team's early-season success, will be pieced together with patchwork the next two days.
Right-hander Jason Hammel, who has anchored the rotation with a 4-1 record and 2.09 ERA, will most likely be pushed back from his scheduled start Thursday with right-knee soreness that he said had regressed the past two to three starts.
But Hammel said he's confident that being pushed him back will avoid a stint on the disabled list. An MRI taken this week showed inflammation and fluid and "maybe an old injury that had been re-aggravated." But Hammel said the soreness has gotten to the point where it's hurting his ability to pitch.
"I can't really drive off my back leg," Hammel said before Wednesday night's game. "It was getting worse and worse, so I think the smart thing to do is give it a couple days, if we can, to kind of calm it down instead of missing a month or a month and a half or more. And we'll go from there."
Hammel said he had a similar problem with his left knee at the end of the 2008 season with Tampa Bay, which required surgery at the end of the season.
Hammel, who entered the season with a career 4.99 ERA, ranks fourth in the American League in wins (4) and ERA (2.09) as well as fifth in strikeouts per nine innings (8.8).
"Obviously. I'm not too happy about it," Hammel said. "But it's just the smartest thing to do for right now. I need to help this team down the road. Initially one start instead of trying to battle through it and it keep getting worse and worse, maybe something bigger would happen. We will see if we can get it controlled."
Hammel said treatment has helped but there's no schedule on when he could slide back into the rotation.
"I haven't been told anything over the last couple days, though I've made a lot of progress with it with just treatment," Hammel said. "So, I'm confident that it's not going to be very long. I've thrown, I've tested it every day trying to see every day where it's at. Obviously, it's my right knee, it's my back knee, so it's my drive leg. If I don't have that, I'm not going to be able to pitch."
The Orioles will need to replace their starters for the next two nights after today's game. They must find a replacement for Hammel tomorrow as well as fill Friday's spot, which was vacated when right-hander Tommy Hunter was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Monday.
"I think we've got a good feel for what we're dealing with, but it feels a little better each day, so we've got to make a decision on whether we're going to pitch him or not," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Right now, it's a push him back. He had this issue with the other knee. I think he's had some experience with it."