WASHINGTON — The Orioles selected the contract of utility infielder Steve Wilkerson on Tuesday and cut designated hitter Pedro Álvarez, a move that could signal the beginning of a roster overhaul for the team.
Wilkerson, 26, went into the offseason with the opportunity to earn a roster spot this year, but he opened this season serving a 50-game suspension for the stimulant amphetamine. Since returning, he hit .290/.362/.500 with four doubles, three homers and nine RBIs in 16 games with Triple-A Norfolk. He has also played five positions during that time — second base (eight starts), third base (two starts), shortstop (two starts), left field (three starts) and right field (one start).
“This is a very special moment,” Wilkerson said. “Regardless of how my season started, I’m very happy and very fortunate to be here right now and I’m really looking [forward] to it. … It was a very difficult time. The last few months of the offseason and spring training and the first few months of the season were difficult and I made the decision at that time to try to put my best foot forward and go about it in a way that I was continuing to prepare myself as best I could for when I got the opportunity to play.”
Before his reinstatement, Wilkerson was limited to playing in extended spring training games through late May while he served his suspension.
“He’s played a lot of games since the season started, just not with paying customers,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s played first, second, short, third, left, right. He’s caught some. He took the time and used it very wisely. He’s in as good of shape as he’s been. He was off to a great start down there [in Norfolk]. … I’m going to be surprised if he’s not a contributor with us and it doesn’t hurt that it’s a couple of National League series.”
Wilkerson has long been well regarded within the organization, and his quick rise was stunted only by his suspension. The 2014 eighth-round draft pick broke out last season with High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, hitting .305/.375/.423 while playing four positions. He had a .317/.396/.512 slash line in 23 games in the Arizona Fall League.
His addition will provide Showalter with more flexibility on the bench, which could have added importance since the Orioles played the first of six straight interleague games in NL parks with pitchers hitting Tuesday night.
“I think I can bring some versatility here,” he said. “I’ve gotten the opportunity to play multiple positions and that really started last year in Bowie and continued in Arizona and this year in Norfolk. And even when I was down in Florida, at the beginning of each week I kind of laid out a plan so that by the end of the week I had gotten my position work in at every spot in the field and with the support of the staff down there I think I did a pretty good job of it. I think I bring some versatility and whatever’s asked of me to do, I’m looking forward to doing it.”
Álvarez, who made the Opening Day roster as a nonroster invitee, saw his role reduced since Mark Trumbo returned from the disabled list in May. Álvarez hit .320/.485/.640 in his first 13 games, but is just .140/.213/.349 over his past 32. He hit eight homers with 18 RBIs in 45 games overall.
Álvarez, 31, made just two starts since May 29, going 1-for-11 with seven strikeouts. Designating him made space on the 25-man and 40-man rosters.
Showalter said he hoped Álvarez would remain in the organization, saying Álvarez had a “previous agreement” in the minor league deal he signed with the club during spring training.
“Pete’s a good man,” Showalter said. “He’s a good teammate and with the potential of some other people returning. … There are some [changes] we’re going to have to make with the roster. He’s always one of those guys who you feel you can part the water and just run him out there every day but with Mark [back] and Chris [Davis] being back [in the lineup] with us shortly, there just weren’t going to be the at-bats for him.”
The Orioles also officially called up catcher Caleb Joseph after optioning catcher Chance Sisco to Norfolk on Sunday.
Joseph, 32, has played 24 games with the Orioles this season but was sent to Triple-A on May 17 after batting .182/.203/.325 with seven extra-base hits and three RBIs. He had also caught just four of 19 attempted base stealers. He improved in both areas with the Tides, batting .273/.340/.364 with four extra-base hits and 14 RBIs in 24 games. He caught six of 13 attempted base stealers.
Still no word on Davis’ return
Although there’s no clear timetable for slumping slugger Davis to return to the Orioles lineup, Showalter said “it’s getting close.”
“He didn’t have an off day yesterday, trust me,” Showalter said of Davis. “He worked on a lot of things. He worked at Camden Yards. They have some pretty detailed workouts there.”
Davis was not in the starting lineup for the eighth time in the past 10 games for Tuesday’s opener at Nationals Park. Showalter said he likely wouldn’t start Wednesday night against Nationals left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez, and a start against star right-hander Max Scherzer on Thursday night seems unlikely.
And even though the Orioles have limited Davis’ playing opportunities against left-handed pitching, Showalter said Tuesday that Davis’ return wouldn’t be dictated by the starting pitcher the Orioles are scheduled to face.
“It has nothing to do with who’s pitching,” Showalter said. “Nothing at all. When Chris and we all think that it’s time and he feels like he’s ready, it doesn’t matter who is pitching, whether it’s a left-hander or a right-hander, when they and we decide that, then he’ll be in there regardless of who is pitching. It has nothing to do with who’s pitching.”
On Chance Sisco’s demotion
Showalter said the thrust of sending top prospect Sisco back to the minor leagues was to “back up a little” and “take a breath.”
“We all know what a good player Chance has the chance to be and [it’s] just an opportunity for him — I think sometimes we forget that he and [reliever Miguel] Castro, they are 23 years old,” Showalter said. “He’s caught and blocked and I think he’s really caught onto calling a game at this level. It’s a good opportunity. … I think Chance will be back here at some point. It’s going to be good for him. I had a long talk with him.”
After a strong start, Sisco’s average tumbled, and despite hitting .250 in June, his .218/.340/.328 slash line in 141 plate appearances wasn’t enough to keep him in the major leagues. Sisco threw out nine of his first 18 potential base stealers but allowed 15 straight steals before ending that streak June 9 in Toronto.
“We tried to give him as much as we felt he could take,” Showalter said. “He was catching, what probably half the games? Just a chance to get out there on a consistent basis and really. I know he’s been frustrated offensively. He hit what, .260-something last year, but this is the only time he’s [struggled]. But he always seems to find a way to sneak a hit in there. He’s going to be a good offensive guy. And I think a lot of the things he’s learned and seen, he will take into play.”
Around the horn
Left-handed reliever Richard Bleier has successful surgery Tuesday to replace a torn left lat muscle. Dr. Anthony Romeo performed the procedure in New Jersey. “They found everything they thought they would,” Showalter said. “They basically had to kind of unfurl the muscle and reattach it. It was a complete tear there.” … Right-hander Chris Tillman (lower back strain) is scheduled to begin his minor league rehabilitation assignment by throwing three innings Wednesday for Short-A Aberdeen. … Third baseman Tim Beckham (core muscle surgery) continued his minor league rehab assignment with Norfolk on Tuesday. He was 1-for-8 with two walks in three previous rehab games with Bowie.