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Orioles notebook: Zach Britton making progress, still needs more time

Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph, left, and relief pitcher Zach Britton high-five after a game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Baltimore, Thursday, April 21, 2016. Baltimore won, 3-2.
Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph, left, and relief pitcher Zach Britton high-five after a game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Baltimore, Thursday, April 21, 2016. Baltimore won, 3-2. (Patrick Semansky / AP)

Orioles closer Zach Britton took a step forward in his recovery from a sprained left ankle Wednesday, throwing for the first time since injuring the joint Saturday, but he still appears to be at least few days away from returning.

Britton threw an abbreviated bullpen session before Wednesday's game against the New York Yankees, throwing from flat ground, moving up to throw five pitches from an incline halfway up the mound, then another five throws from the pitching rubber.

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"I just told them how I felt and they'll kind of figure something out," Britton said. "... Throw another bullpen tomorrow and then see how it feels, maybe be ready then. I'm not sure. I'll leave it up to those guys. I'm just going to tell them I feel pretty good and hopefully feel even better tomorrow."

Britton did not test the ankle with any fielding practice drills, which he'd likely have to do before returning. Britton injured the ankle while making a defensive play Saturday.

"It should be part of the thought, but then you can go five outings and none of those plays come in," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I was kidding with him, if it's just covering first, we'll just tell Chris [Davis] he has to cover everything. Just stay right there on the dirt and we take our chances, but that's not realistic. The challenge is, I don't care how many things you do on the mound, off the mound there's still some unknown at game speed. You can't make plays not happen. You can't make them hit a ball to your best defender. The white ball will find you."

When Britton returns to game action, he expects to wear a brace on his ankle to help stability on his push-off leg, which might be more critical for him to get the sink on his two-seam fastball. Britton said he expects to pitch through some discomfort because ankle injuries are finicky, but he said he will have to figure out how to maintain his ankle throughout the season.

"I guess it's hard to explain," Britton said. "You hurt your ankle, it's not like something ever goes away. I think that's something for the offseason. It's going to be something we deal with throughout the year. But it's not painful."

The club still believes that Britton won't be a disabled list candidate, and his lingering injury is keeping the Orioles at 13 pitchers for now at the cost of having a three-man bench.

"With a guy like Zach, you don't want to get five days into it and say, 'Yeesh, I'm 100 percent, I'm ready to go,'" Showalter said. "That's one of the reasons why we're trying to carry 13 pitchers right now, to give this as much time as possible to not make that mistake. I've had it happen before when you kind of jump the gun on it."

Hardy staying back on road trip: Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, currently on the disabled list with a hairline fracture in his left foot, will remain in Baltimore when the team goes on the road to Minnesota next week.

Hardy will be on crutches and his foot will be in a boot for the next two to three weeks, so he can't put any weight on it, but he will resume working out with vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson while the team is on the road.

"From the thighs up, anything nonweight bearing," Showalter said. "Trying to keep up the maintenance."

Around the horn: Showalter said that infielder Paul Janish could be available to join the club as early as Thursday. The team is expected to add Janish at some point over the next few days, but he was scheduled to be on paternity leave for the arrival of his third child. The addition of Janish, who must also be added to the 40-man roster, would give the team a much-needed infield reserve who can start at shortstop on occasion against left-handed pitching. … Right-hander Yovani Gallardo (shoulder tendinitis) will remain with the team on the road next week. He is continuing shoulder strengthening exercises and while Showalter hasn't put a timetable on when he can resume throwing, the manager said it's "sooner rather than later if he continues down the path." ... Triple-A Norfolk first baseman Trey Mancini, who hit .291/.396/.616 with seven homers and 16 RBIs in April, was named the organizational Player of the Month. Mancini hit .302/.413/.698 in 17 games at Double-A Bowie before receiving a promotion to Norfolk. … Low-A Delmarva left-handed reliever Garrett Cleavinger earned organizational Pitcher of the Month honors. The team's third-round draft pick last year, Cleavinger went 3-0 with a 1.84 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings. … As part of the Orioles' Cardboard to Leather program, the team invited members of the new junior varsity baseball and softball programs at the International High School of Largo to Wednesday's game. The program is providing the school, an English as a Second Language (ESL) school in Prince George's County, with baseball equipment for its inaugural season.

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