Orioles closer Zach Britton is back from extended spring training and said he's upbeat about beginning his minor league rehabilitation assignment at Ripken Stadium on Monday night.
Britton (left forearm strain) threw to hitters in a simulated game Thursday and will pitch one inning for the Short-A IronBirds on Opening Night.
"It went really well, facing hitters for the first time in a while," Britton said. "Physically, it felt great. That's kind of what that was all about. I woke up this morning and felt great. Progress has been really, really good lately. I've had no setbacks off the mound, been feeling really good. I've just got to get back in game form and I'll be ready to go."
If all goes well, Britton will follow up Monday night's game with a couple of outings at Low-A Delmarva and then pitch an inning in back-to-back games at Double-A Bowie, but no one is saying how much time he'll rest between each minor league stop.
It sounds like he might be just a couple of weeks from a decision on when he can return to the major league bullpen, but manager Buck Showalter wouldn't go there. He said fairly emphatically that Britton will not be ready to rejoin the big league club by July 1, but would not speculate beyond that.
"I don't think it will be July 1. ... I know it won't, because that's not what the schedule is," Showalter said. "We're starting to get more definitive. I think probably after that second Delmarva appearance, we'll get a real definitive idea if that all goes well.
"He feels good. You can tell by talking to him and he feels good about where he is."
Club officials are being careful not to appear too eager to bring him back after he tried to return too soon from the forearm strain that has now cost him nearly half the season.
"I think the time frame wasn't what I wanted," Britton said. "I didn't want to be out that long, but from what we've done from a rehab standpoint and building up to throwing, it's been nothing but positive, so you can't fault them for being a little more cautious. It was the right thing to do.
"Obviously, since I came back early one time, we didn't want that to happen again, so we followed what [the doctors] said that we needed to do and so far so good."
Britton said he still isn't sure how the injury occurred and his doctors aren't either.
"Some of the doctors were asking me if I remember a time where I felt something," Britton said, "because the hand specialist we talked to said it would be a very hard thing to do throwing a baseball, and more so likely something you did in the gym picking up weight, but no one is sure exactly. But everything I've heard, this injury will go away and never come back if you treat it right."
Britton said one doctor told him the injury, which is well below the elbow, is more common among rock climbers than baseball players.
Showalter said Darren O'Day threw for the first time Thursday since going on the disabled list and felt good.
"No pain, no problems," Showalter said. "I haven't gotten an update today. That's moving well. Obviously, he's eligible tomorrow. He won't make that, but hopefully we'll get him back sometime next week."
Jimenez to start Sunday
Showalter said Ubaldo Jimenez will start Sunday's series finale against the St. Louis Cardinals. The decision, he added, is based on the club's need to move Alec Asher back into the bullpen and the hope that Jimenez will benefit from the time he has spent in relief.
"Ubaldo has responded well to some time in the bullpen and we'll see if that happens again," Showalter said. "We're going to try to solidify the bullpen a little bit as far as some of the movement there. Ash did a good job for us there and presented himself well as a starter some of the time.
"I think it's as much because of Ubaldo because he pitches and needs three or four days off put us in a tough spot in the bullpen."
Mike Wright heads to DL
Right-hander Mike Wright was placed on the DL on Friday afternoon. Vidal Nuno and Gabriel Ynoa were called up to fill the void left by Wright's shoulder bursitis and the return of Jimmy Yacabonis to Triple-A Norfolk.
Wright underwent an MRI and was expected to receive an injection in his right shoulder.
Something has to give
The Orioles arrived at Camden Yards on Friday in the middle of a horrible slump, but at least they were not alone.
The St. Louis Cardinals have also been in a major funk, losing 10 of their 14 games before the series. Since shutting out the Chicago Cubs on May 14, they were 9-20 coming into the opener of the three-game interleague series at Camden Yards. The Orioles, believe it or not, were a game better than that at 10-19 over the same period.
Around the horn
Manny Machado was in the second spot in the batting order Friday night and Adam Jones moved back to third in the lineup. Showalter said it was "just to get a different look." ... Seth Smith, who had not played since Monday after experiencing back stiffness, returned to the lineup Friday night. Showalter said Smith would have to get into a game situation to be sure his back was no longer a problem.