Right-hander Jason Hammel took a significant step toward returning to the Orioles' starting rotation Tuesday, throwing a bullpen session off a full mound for the first time since re-aggravating a right-knee injury two weeks ago.
Hammel threw 35 pitches in the Orioles' bullpen before Tuesday's game and tested out a new knee brace that he said was similar to a quarterback brace and was very helpful in keeping his knee stable.
"I was actually surprised," Hammel said after the session. "I though it would still be a little weak. The last few pitches I felt a little weakness and a little discomfort, but it's a step in the right direction."
There's still no timetable for a return, but Hammel said he remains optimistic he can return this season.
"I really don't know," he said. "I'd like to be. That's the game plan. It really depends on how it reacts tomorrow. Obviously, it feels great right now but it could come back and be really sore tomorrow."
Of the 35 pitches, Hammel said he just threw a few at 100 percent.
"I'm definitely not at 100 percent," he said. "I didn't want to set my expectations too high last night because I knew I was going to do it today. I was expecting to hit a wall at like 20, but I still felt strong at 35."
Hammel limped off the mound in the fourth inning of his Sept. 11 start against the Tampa Bay Rays, tweaking the same knee that he had arthroscopic surgery on in mid-July. He missed eight weeks and then hurt the knee again in his second start back.
More injury updates
Outfielder Lew Ford, who normally would have started Tuesday against a left-hander, wasn't in the lineup because he is dealing with a groin injury that he suffered while running to first base Sunday in Boston.
"[Monday] it was as sore if not sorer, that's why we were cautious with it," Showalter said. "[Tuesday] there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of improvement. But he still could potentially do some things if we so desired."
Right fielder Nick Markakis, who has been sidelined since being hit with a pitch from CC Sabathia pitch Sept. 8, received a new hard cast for his left thumb Tuesday. He said he is hopeful that he will get the pins removed next week while he and the club are in Tampa. And that allows Showalter to remain hopeful that Markakis can return during a potential postseason run.
"Hopefully, it has the potential to be on the fast track, we'll see," Showalter said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.