The Orioles learned quickly Friday that they won't be able to gradually introduce Rule 5 draft pick Anthony Santander to the major leagues, forced to put the outfielder into the starting lineup in his first game on the 25-man active roster.
Because of an illness that kept first baseman Chris Davis out of the lineup and left-hander Andrew Heaney starting for the Los Angeles Angels, Santander made his major league debut starting in right field Friday night. Left fielder Trey Mancini started at first base while left-handed platoon outfielder Seth Smith was taken out of play by Heaney.
"They're going to play," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Santander. "Something happens every day, you walk in here and two guys are sick and you're one of 25. … You can't [just] carry them (Rule 5 picks). They're going to play. I was hoping we'd kind of be able to ease him into it, but this is fine, too. Sometimes it works better that way, too."
Both Davis and catcher Welington Castillo were not in Friday's starting lineup because of an illness that Showalter said crept up on the team during their just-completed West Coast trip to face the Angels, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners.
"A lot of it started about halfway through the trip," Showalter said. "It's a very common phenomenon there. When you go to the West Coast, people seem to come back sick through the years. I have no documentation."
Santander, 22, said he was surprised to see his name in the starting lineup right away.
"I'm very excited," the Venezuela-born Santander said through interpreter Ramon Alarcon. "I hope you guys can see it in my smile. … A little bit surprised of course, but very happy for this opportunity and trying to take advantage of this opportunity. … I definitely feel excited. There's a whole lot of emotions going on with me, but [I'm] happy to be here and contribute to the team."
Santander, who was selected from the Cleveland Indians after a strong season at High-A, has just 15 games of experience above that level, all during his time rehabilitating at Double-A Bowie this season. But he hit well on his rehab assignment, batting .382/.453/.745 with five doubles, five homers and 14 RBIs in 15 games at Bowie and one game at High-A Frederick.
He had been on the disabled list with a right forearm strain since the beginning of the season, and Showalter said the club knew Santander might have to go through some DL time when they drafted him because he was coming off offseason shoulder surgery.
"I was only worried about getting [here] one day at a time," Santander said of the rehab process. "It's a long process. I just need to stick to the process, never get frustrated about it, and think that it's going to come to an end, so I'm happy to be here. … Bowie was a great experience. It had been a while since I had played a live game, so I just tried to take advantage of that situation and try to bring [that] over to this level. … [My shoulder] is ready to play, which is the most important thing. I'm ready to go out there and give it my best — pretty close to 100 percent — and show I can help."
Showalter said there can be some benefit to Santander getting time right away, so he can go through all the firsts of playing in the majors.
"There's some positive about it," Showalter said. "He had 30-plus plate appearances in the spring. There's not like he hasn't been around the team and the players. … Anthony, you like to make his path easier and somehow ease it in a bit, but sometimes it's OK to run him up there."
Asked whether Davis or Castillo were sent home, Showalter wouldn't say whether either was available off the bench Friday.
"If I did, I'm not going to competitively speak about it," Showalter said. "We're waiting to have the doctors weigh in on it. If you see [emergency catcher] Ryan Flaherty catching batting practice, it will give you a pretty good idea. … But we're not taking batting practice [because of rain]."
The Orioles entered Friday with just 13 games until rosters expand on Sept. 1.
Tillman could start on Sunday
Right-hander Chris Tillman, who was moved to the bullpen nearly two weeks ago, could start Sunday afternoon's series finale against the Angels.
Tillman had a work day before Friday's game and the Orioles have yet to announce a starting pitcher for Sunday. Giving him the start Sunday would allow the team to give right-hander Kevin Gausman extra rest after starting Saturday against the Angels while also pushing left-hander Wade Miley to start Monday's series opener against the Athletics.
The Orioles continue to use their days off to accommodate extra rest for right-hander Dylan Bundy, whose next start will come either Tuesday or Wednesday, Showalter said. With Thursday's day off, Bundy's upcoming start will come on nine or 10 days of rest.
"I think most of our pitchers, with one exception, pitch better with extra rest, especially this time of the year," Showalter said. "I'd like to do it, and it was one of the reasons behind getting Jeremy [Hellickson] and with Dylan covering that [extra rest] so that Dylan is available to pitch in October.
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"So Chris Tillman kind of comes into play there, so we're looking at some things, but it also puts you at a six-man bullpen, which basically we had for about eight or nine days when Chris had pitched but wasn't available and didn't pitch. So with the off days, it requires some things. I'd really like to give Gaus an extra day when I can in the future. All of them, they all pitch better statistically for the most part this time of year."
The move would push Gausman back to start in next weekend's series against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. His ERA with extra rest (4.99) this season is only slightly better than on regular four days' rest (5.12). But take away his first start after the All-Star break — a three-inning, eight-run outing against the Chicago Cubs — and Gausman has a 3.57 ERA in seven starts on extra rest this season.
Tillman, who was sent to the bullpen after posting an 8.10 ERA in his first 15 starts, has made two short relief appearances — 1 1/3 scoreless innings Sunday in Oakland and one scoreless inning Wednesday in Seattle. He has faced just eight batters and thrown 31 pitches out of the bullpen, but the club believes his side work keeps him stretched out enough to start.
Around the horn
Shortstop J.J. Hardy took on-field batting practice before Friday's game, taking another step forward in his recovery from a broken right wrist. He will take BP again for two more days and go through an entire pregame routine before the team considers a minor league rehab assignment. Showalter said he was hopeful Hardy would be able to begin playing in rehab games by early next week. With the return of Santander and Flaherty, Hardy is the only player remaining on the DL.