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After missing more than 10 weeks with a nagging hip injury, outfielder Colby Rasmus returned to an Orioles team in transition Thursday, a move that was somewhat of a surprise.

The Orioles signed Rasmus, 31, in spring training hoping he would be a piece of a contending club, but the team’s fortunes have changed dramatically since he played his most recent game April 6, and the Orioles have started to turn toward the future, a move that should accelerate in the coming weeks as the nonwaiver trade deadline approaches at the end of next month.

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They have yet to see a return on the minor league contract Rasmus signed in February, a deal that netted him $3 million once he made the major league club. He was just 2-for-21 with 13 strikeouts when he went on the DL for an injury to his surgically repaired hip. And until the final four games of his rehabilitation assignment, he was hitting just .207 while playing mostly at the high Single-A level.

To make room for Rasmus on the 25-man roster, the Orioles optioned outfielder Joey Rickard, who hit three homers in his past 13 games, but was just 4-for-32 over that stretch.

Rasmus’ rehab assignment window expired after his game with Double-A Bowie on Wednesday, and now the Orioles will seemingly give him the opportunity to earn back the role he had at the beginning of the season.

“It depends on him,” Showalter said of whether Rasmus could regain his initial role. “If he presents himself well, that’s certainly a way we’d like to go. But there’s a lot of potential for things to go in a lot of directions. He controls it. If he does what we think he is capable of, that role is still there for him.”

Rasmus’ contributions came quickly.

Rasmus was immediately inserted into the starting lineup in Thursday night’s series finale against the Washington Nationals, and he homered in his first at-bat, taking a 1-1 fastball from three-time Cy Young Award-winner Max Scherzer over the center-field wall.

He also made perhaps the biggest defensive play of the game, executing a 9-2 double play to keep the game tied in the seventh inning, catching Daniel Murphy’s line drive to right, and uncorking a throw home on the fly — albeit so high that catcher Caleb Joseph had to jump for it — to nab Wilmer Difo at the plate.

“Man, I feel good about it,” Rasmus said before the game about starting Thursday. “It’s always good and a dream to be in the big leagues. Just happy to be here. Hopefully I can help the team win. It’s been a long process trying to get back, so hopefully it’ll work out.”

The Orioles entered Thursday 30 games under .500 and buried 29 games out of first place in the American League East, so the focus has turned beyond 2018 and toward potentially dealing pending free agents such as Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zach Britton and Brad Brach while getting a closer look at players who could be a part of the team’s future.

The team has made some of those types of moves — giving left-hander Tanner Scott a more prominent bullpen role and calling up utility man Steve Wilkerson — but some recent moves — such as optioning top catching prospect Chance Sisco and the return of Rasmus — don’t mesh with that direction.

Perhaps the Orioles are taking the opportunity to showcase Rasmus as a trade chip, but as the team continues to get younger, adding the 31-year-old who has played in just 45 games since the beginning of last season — including an abrupt departure from the Tampa Bay Rays last year to be with his family — was at least something of a head-scratcher.

“We’re just hoping Colby can come back and start showing us what he’s capable of,” Showalter said.

Rickard, 27, who had a .203/.267/.405 hitting line in 29 games, struggled to gain consistency at the plate while playing inconsistently.

“It was inconsistent, but at times I did help the team win,” Rickard said. “At the same time we are deep and we got guys who can help [the team] win. … It’s tough. You get accommodated to the guys up here, you want to help them win up here. But at the time same time, we got other guys, which is a good thing.”

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Even Rasmus acknowledged that he’s part of no youth movement, but he will take the opportunity to show the Orioles their investment in him was worthwhile.

“That’s the goal,” Rasmus said. “But I don’t think anyone in this room is totally healthy. We’re all playing with things. I had hip surgery and I’m not 21 anymore. So I have to think accordingly, act accordingly and do the things I have to do to prepare myself to get ready to play. That’s my goal every day. Try to get ready to play so I can help this team win and do the best I can on the field.”

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