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The struggling Orioles can't expect Jonathan Schoop to be a savior, but the return of their starting second baseman gives the team some infield stability and a middle-of-the-order bat it needs.

Since Schoop went down with an oblique injury April 13, the Orioles have won just three of their past 20 games, entering Tuesday's series opener against the Kansas City Royals with an 8-26 record that is the second-worst in the major leagues.

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Schoop returned for Tuesday's game, his first big league action in three weeks, batting in the cleanup spot for the first time in his major league career. The team optioned infielder Engelb Vielma to Triple-A Norfolk to make 25-man roster space for Schoop.

"I think [it's] as much his presence," manager Buck Showalter said. "Just another guy with a track record and some things that you know he's capable of. Who knows? Jon's made an error, and Jon has had a strikeout. But you know it's the capabilities there, and importantly, his teammates and the other teams know that. … It's good to have Jon's skills and his personality back on the club. Hopefully, he'll help some defensively."

The 2017 Royals dealt with the same problems in the final year of their competitive window as this year's Orioles have. "It's almost like the last year of high school," Kansas City pitcher Jason Hammel said.

Schoop's injury — along with Tim Beckham's groin injury 10 days later — left the Orioles infield depleted and the team's lack of depth exposed. Meanwhile, the Orioles brought Schoop along cautiously because he faced a high risk of aggravating the injury if he swung too early.

That is why I tested it [with some hard swings]," Schoop said of his four-game minor league rehabilitation assignment. "There were a few times I missed the ball and it didn't hurt. I swung and missed a lot of times and I didn't feel it. I hope I can come back out and put the ball in play and help the team win. I got my at-bats. I wasn't focused on the results, I was focused on how I feel and I feel good. I'm ready to go."

Schoop went 2-for-13 with six strikeouts in three games at Double-A Bowie and one additional contest — which he requested to get more at bats — at High-A Frederick on Monday's day off.

"Excited to go out there again, compete and try to win," Schoop said. "I am 100 percent ready. That is why I went on the rehab assignment. Get my swing down there and get some defense in."

Schoop started slowly, but right before his injury, he showed signs of finding his footing, going 4-for-8 in his final two games following a 1-for-23 stretch that dipped his average to .189. He is hitting .230/.266/.344 with one homer and three RBIs in 14 games.

With an 8-26 record entering Tuesday night’s game against the Royals, the Orioles are on pace to break franchise records for futility.

He said he hopes his return can help the Orioles stop their current tailspin.

"Of course," he said. "But everybody told me, 'Don't come in here and try to be the hero. Just play the way you normally play and have fun.' We all have to work together to be good. … It's tough. I know they want to do good and win. I hope we can start a winning streak today. I hope we can turn it around today."

Rotation matters

Struggling Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman, who was initially not scheduled to take his next turn in the order, will now stay in line and start Thursday's series finale against Kansas City.

Showalter said that he wanted to give right-hander Kevin Gausman an additional day of rest after throwing nine shutout innings on 113 pitches Saturday. Gausman has benefited from one day of extra rest this season, pitching to a 0.61 ERA in two starts over 14 2/3 innings.

"[Tillman] was going to pitch somewhere, and after Gausman's outing, I felt like he needed an extra day, after nine ups for the first time in a while," Showalter said. "Talking to Kevin a little bit the day after his start and what-have-you, I really didn't want, I wanted to give Cobb an extra day. I found through the years, when you have those off days, you better take advantage of them because after the next one, we've got a long string of pitching every fifth day. We're very proud of the health of our guys over the years. It's hard, and you've got to think about it before it happens."

Showalter said he also preferred to not slot Tillman for Saturday's doubleheader since the Orioles will have to account for at least 18 extra innings while Tillman is coming off an one-inning start and is averaging just more than four innings a start.

Instead, it allows Showalter to give both Gausman and Alex Cobb — who is set to start Game 2 of the doubleheader against his former team — an extra day of rest. Saturday's Game 1 starters will likely be summoned from the minor leagues, but the team could pitch the game out of the bullpen if it hasn't been overworked, with a 26th player available.

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"If it had been Chris and somebody else, you know, Chris has had his challenges this year," Showalter said. "Then put another guy there also. But I think the biggest part of it was Gaus getting an extra day. [Pitching coach] Roger [McDowell] and I looked at it and talked to him afterwards, and just felt like it was the best way to go.

The 40-man possibilities are thin, and Showalter said right-hander David Hess, who threw seven shutout innings and struck out 10 in an early Tuesday game at Triple-A Norfolk, likely isn't a candidate to start Saturday's Game 1, but could offer relief help.

"As a starter, probably [not now]," Showalter said. "I think as much time as he's had off, and the effectiveness of his season, we feel like if we were going to use him it would be more as a reliever in that period. It's important that the start, especially with a 10:30 [a.m.] game. It's a little bit different gig."

Where’s Wright?

Right-hander Mike Wright, who was moved out of the rotation in mid-April to make room for Alex Cobb, entered Tuesday with just four times in relief since. He then entered Tueday night's game in the first inning after Dylan Bundy allowed seven runs without recording an out.

Out of all the numbers surrounding this Orioles team, the only ones that mean anything are the 8 in the win column and the 26 in the loss column. Everything else is noise. But some of the underlying stats behind their unpleasant start go a long way toward explaining the worst record in baseball.

Showalter said there's no strategy to holding back on him, but that the results are dictating that. Before Tuesday, Wright had pitched nine innings out of the bullpen, allowing eight earned runs on eight hits with seven walks and nine strikeouts.

"Part of it's being effective when you come in, you know?' Showalter said. "That's one thing. It's not where you're scheduled to pitch. We're not piggybacking. You try to get people out, and if not... It's not an ideal situation for him, but it sure beats the alternative. Mike's going to have to be a little more effective when he comes in and gets the opportunity."

Wright said he's had to have some touch-and-feel bullpen sessions to keep a ball in his hands, and that a sporadic role in the major league bullpen is better than the uncertainty of the minors or having to join another team, as he's out of minor league options.

"I've been a reliever before, obviously here but not consistently here," Wright said. "I was a reliever in college, so I kind of understand being prepared every day to go out there. But every time, you come to the field you try to look and learn something new."

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Around the horn

The Orioles, who have gone 0-6 on back-to-back road trips, became the first time to go winless in consecutive road trips of five games or more since the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys, who went 0-7 and 0-22 on back-to-back road trips. The Alleghenys became the Pirates the following season. … Shortstop Manny Machado was presented with his American League Player of the Week award by executive vice president Dan Duquette before Tuesday's game. … Top prospect Ryan Mountcastle, who suffered a broken hand during spring training, is slated to return to minor league games on Thursday at Double-A Bowie. … Outfielder Colby Rasmus (hip) is expected to get back into extended spring training games early next week. Utility infielder Luis Sardiñas (back) will play in extended spring games starting Friday.

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