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Many celebrated the official start of summer over the weekend, but Orioles pitcher Freddy Garcia must wish the calendar had never turned over from May to June.
His horrendous outing in a 13-5 loss to Toronto on Sunday was his third start of the month in which he allowed five or more runs and left his record for June at 1-3 with a 10.19 earned run average covering four starts and one relief appearance. In 17 2/3 innings this month, Garcia has allowed nine home runs.
Garcia lasted just 2 1/3 innings on Sunday as he gave up seven earned runs before giving way to long reliever T.J. McFarland.
It was May 30 when Garcia turned in his best outing of the year with eight shutout innings in a 2-0 win over the Washington Nationals, but his body of work ever since has been nightmarish for the Orioles, who are already dealing with their fifth starter job being in flux. Left-hander Zach Britton will receive Monday’s start against the Cleveland Indians, but his standing in the rotation is tenuous at best after he earned his first win in 5 1/3 innings of work in Detroit last week.
How much longer can the Orioles afford to go with Garcia? His leash wasn’t exactly long when he was pitching at his best last month, but manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette may not find a better immediate option to allow Sunday to be the last start made by the 36-year-old.
The good news is left-hander Wei-Yin Chen is scheduled to pitch in a simulated game on Monday, which will allow him to potentially begin a minor-league rehab assignment next weekend. The bad news is that means Chen won’t be ready to make his potential return to the Orioles until the first week of July at the earliest and that’s only assuming the 27-year-old won’t experience any hiccups between now and then. Chen has been sidelined since May 12 with a strained right oblique.
Of course, rookie Kevin Gausman’s name will be mentioned, but his first start for Triple-A Norfolk in which he allowed seven earned runs in six innings didn’t make an emphatic statement for him to be brought back to the majors immediately as most assumed he would. It would be surprising not to see the 22-year-old in Baltimore sooner rather than later, but Showalter also expressed a desire for Gausman to work on some mechanical issues with Tides pitching coach Mike Griffin when he was sent down earlier this month.
Japanese left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada started for Norfolk on Sunday, allowing two earned runs in five innings of work, but have two solid starts against Triple-A hitters erased the memory of his immense struggles during his rehab assignment that forced the Orioles to convince Wada to give his consent to be optioned to the minors? Wada walked two and struck out none on his way to throwing 91 pitches in completing only five innings in a 4-3 loss to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Sunday.
There appear to be no other current options at Norfolk that make sense.
Jair Jurrjens? He has a 5.60 ERA in three starts this month.
Josh Stinson? His 4.74 ERA in 12 Triple-A starts this season isn’t the answer.
Steve Johnson remains in Sarasota as he recovers from a strained left oblique and just began a throwing progression.
Looking back at the big-league roster, there’s always McFarland, whose name has come up as a starting candidate on a few occasions this year. However, the Orioles have refrained from removing the Rule 5 selection from his long-relief role to this point. The 24-year-old lefty gave up five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings on Sunday, but he’s pitched respectably over the course of his rookie season.
Beyond that and focusing on the big picture of contending in the American League East, the Orioles are in search of starting pitching help as names such as Miami’s Ricky Nolasco, Houston’s Bud Norris, Minnesota’s Mike Pelfrey, and even former Oriole Joe Saunders have been thrown out there as potential targets. However, these opposing clubs are fully aware that the Orioles need rotation help and it would be unwise to overpay for marginal pitching talent more than a month away from the trade deadline.
Regardless of whether it’s Monday or two weeks from now, it appears Garcia’s time is running out with the Orioles, which isn’t very surprising when remembering how he was available at the end of spring training on a minor-league deal.
But it doesn’t ease the Orioles’ starting pitching headaches for the immediate future.