The game of musical chairs that's quickly becoming the Orioles starting rotation took another twist when manager Buck Showalter announced after Thursday's 9-1 loss to the New York Yankees that right-hander Gabriel Ynoa will start Saturday's game in Cleveland instead of right-hander Chris Tillman.
Tillman will instead be available out of the bullpen, with Showalter citing a lingering physical problem as the reason the right-hander won't make his next scheduled start Saturday.
Also, right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez, who was jettisoned to the bullpen earlier this week, will return to start Monday's series opener in Toronto.
Tillman said after Thursday's game that he's had some wrist soreness in his throwing arm, but it's nothing that has affected his pitching and wouldn't prevent him from starting. He had a work day before Thursday's game and threw off flat ground without incident.
When the Orioles acquired right-hander Jeremy Hellickson just before the nonwaiver trade deadline, it gave the club six starting pitchers, which allowed Showalter to give right-hander Dylan Bundy additional rest as his innings count approaches the 180-inning threshold the organization wanted for him.
Ynoa, whose contract was purchased in the offseason from the New York Mets in an effort to assemble a stable of optionable arms for spot starts or long relief, has made just five appearances for the Orioles this season, all in relief, while posting a 3.68 ERA. He was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday and threw two scoreless innings Monday against the Yankees in his only outing since re-joining the club. He had a 5.25 ERA in 21 starts with Norfolk.
After Kevin Gausman allowed five runs over three innings in Thursday afternoon's makeup game against the Yankees, the Orioles rotation has posted a combined 5.07 ERA since Aug. 1. Despite that number, left-hander Wade Miley (2.67), right-hander Dylan Bundy (2.93) and Gausman (3.83) all have sub-4.00 ERAs over that stretch.
The starting ERAs since Aug. 1 for Hellickson (6.87 ERA), Jiménez (8.22) and Tillman (9.72 ERA) are lacking, to say the least.
The Orioles rode some strong starting pitching to their season-long seven-game winning streak last month that propelled them back into the middle of the American League wild-card race, posting a 3.80 ERA over that stretch, but since that streak, the Orioles starters own a combined 7.50 ERA.
"When we won those seven games, you're talking about in a row, we've gotten some quality starting pitching and when we didn't, a couple of those games we were able to make up for it in other areas so that's going to have to get better," Showalter said Thursday. "We'll see."
For now, Tillman will go back to the bullpen, where he was sent in August after a rocky beginning to his second half and was used sparingly, making two scoreless relief appearances spanning 2 1/3 innings over a 16-day stretch before returning to the rotation Aug. 20.
Tillman used that time in the bullpen to make adjustments to his mechanics and in his last outing Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays, he retired seven of the first eight he faced before running into trouble by allowing a three-run homer to Josh Donaldson. In that outing, he allowed three runs over four innings.
Jiménez has posted quality starts in each of his past three starts against the Blue Jays dating to Aug. 30, 2016. He had his best outing of the season in his last matchup against the Blue Jays, throwing eight scoreless innings and allowing just two hits June 29 at Rogers Centre.
Showalter said Bundy will pitch Tuesday in Toronto, allowing him seven days' rest between starts. Bundy has 2.90 ERA in five starts this season with at least six days' rest, and owns a 4.42 ERA in 21 starts on less rest.