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Orioles notes: Zach Britton, O's eye return from disabled list on next homestand

The Orioles have laid out the final stages of Zach Britton’s minor league rehabilitation assignment schedule, with the team’s closer conceivably returning from the disabled list during the team’s next homestand.

Britton, who has pitched two scoreless one-inning outings — most recently an eight-pitch, three-groundout perfect inning for Double-A Bowie on Friday night — is set to pitch next Tuesday for Triple-A Norfolk at Columbus. He would pitch again Thursday and then work back-to-back days the following Monday and Tuesday.

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“I feel really good,” Britton said Saturday. “I’m accomplishing all the little things I want to accomplish and now it’s just about getting some more innings again and then getting activated at some point.”

Under that schedule, Britton could potentially be activated from the 60-day disabled list June 15, when the Orioles open a weekend series against the Miami Marlins at Camden Yards.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Britton could receive more rehab outings if they are needed, but that would be the earliest the team would activate the left-hander.

“We’ve got it built in both ways,” Showalter said. “I don’t think Zach completely agrees with that. He’s about ready to go.”

Britton, who opened the season on the DL after surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon in December, said he feels healthy, his arm feels strong and the only hurdle that remains is getting more innings under his belt against competition closer to what he will face when he returns to the major league club.

Britton has allowed just one hit over two scoreless innings in his two rehab outings. In his first appearance for High-A Frederick, he allowed a hit and struck out the side. He said Saturday that he feels much better than he did when he came off the disabled list from a left forearm strain before the All-Star break last season.

“After the last sim game in Tampa, I knew I was ahead of where I wanted to be and I was ready to go and start a rehab assignment,” Britton said. “These last two outings have confirmed that. I think you have an idea of how you want to feel and know, ‘Hey, this is going to work when I face better competition.’ So I feel pretty good with where I’m at right now with my pitches and my command. Last year when I went on the rehab with the forearm, it was weird because I wasn’t able to move the ball when I wanted to, where with this I feel great. My arm feels great.”

Britton, who is a pending free agent, could be showcased — both in rehab appearances and once he returns from the DL — as a trade chip with the nonwaiver trade deadline looming at the end of next month. He returned last season before the break and was nearly dealt to the Houston Astros before a trade fell through.

Orioles want to see Mullins handle slow stuff

Asked what the Orioles need to see from Cedric Mullins, 23, in his promotion to Norfolk after he excelled at Double-A Bowie, Showalter said the team is looking for the outfielder prospect to show his ability to handle the an increased dose of off-speed pitches that is now at that level.

Prospects no longer need to succeed at Triple-A before receiving a big league call-up as the Double-A level has emerged as a legitimate proving ground for young players, but Showalter said that it’s important to play at Triple-A to prepare hitters for more off-speed stuff. The Orioles’ inability to handle off-speed pitches is a big focal point of their current offensive struggles, and no team sees fewer fastballs than them.

“I think the confidence in the breaking ball that these guys are going to throw in any count [is the difference],” Showalter said. “If they see a weakness, they’re going to throw seven breaking balls in a row. … You’re seeing a lot of that below, but his ability to handle off-speed stuff and kind of work the count [is important]. I think there’s a lot more pure arm strength in Double-A now. Guys [with that] in Triple-A, they go up pretty quickly when they show some things.”

Mullins, who was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his Triple-A debut Friday, batted .313/.362/.512 with 23 extra-base hits (12 doubles, five triples and six homers) with Bowie.

Showalter: Tillman has to show he’s doing different things

Right-hander Chris Tillman, who went on the DL with a lower back strain after two straight short starts, has resumed bullpen sessions, but there’s still no clear timetable for his return. With the emergence of rookie right-hander David Hess, the Orioles have a full starting rotation.

So asked what would happen when Tillman is ready to return physically, Showalter said the veteran pitcher will also have to show he’s “doing something different than he was doing before he left” in his rehab assignment.

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“I feel confident he’s going to be able to do that,” Showalter said. “So much can change in that time period, how you look at the rotation and what have you. It’s pretty common knowledge that he’s going to have to show us that he is ready to come back and do some things differently than he was doing when he left here. I don’t think that’s some big revelation, right? Maybe it is.”

Around the horn

Showalter said infielder Tim Beckham (core muscle surgery) will be able to return close to when he’s eligible to come off the DL on June 23. His rehab assignment is scheduled to start June 14. … Reliever Darren O’Day will return to the mound with a bullpen session Sunday, a step forward in his slow recovery from a hyperextended right elbow. “If that goes well, it will move pretty quickly then,” Showalter said. O’Day will need at least one or two rehab outings before being activated.

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