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BALTIMORE — With Memorial Day still almost two weeks away, the Orioles appear on the verge of using their 10th starting pitcher of the season as Jair Jurrjens appears to be next in line to take the ball for a shorthanded rotation.
The former Atlanta Braves right-hander will have his contract selected to make his club debut against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday afternoon, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Manager Buck Showalter predictably wouldn’t confirm Jurrjens to get the ball, only labeling him as “an option” to make the start.
Signed to a minor-league contract at the start of spring training, Jurrjens became the obvious candidate when the Orioles elected to recall relief pitcher Alex Burnett to take injured left-handed starter Wei-Yin Chen’s place on the 25-man roster. Right-hander Steve Johnson would have been eligible to be recalled — waiving the 10-day waiting period for being optioned last Saturday — had he been taking the place of a player going to the disabled list.
As part of his agreement upon signing with Baltimore, Jurrjens had a June 15 opt-out clause that allowed him to become a free agent had the club not promoted him to the 25-man roster by then. In seven starts for Triple-A Norfolk, the 27-year-old is 4-1 with a 3.14 ERA in 51 2/3 innings. He has allowed 44 hits, struck out 36, and walked 15 batters in his work with the Tides.
Jurrjens was a National League All-Star just two years ago when he went 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA in 23 starts for Atlanta, but he was demoted to the minor leagues last year as he dealt with a strained groin and finished 3-4 with a 6.89 ERA. In his seventh major league season, Jurrjens has also dealt with knee issues, which was one of the reasons the Orioles opted not to sign the right-hander to a major-league contract this offseason.
The Braves did not offer Jurrjens a contract last offseason as he became a free agent after going 50-36 with a 3.58 ERA in five years with Atlanta.
Chen’s timetable for return unknown
The Orioles officially placed Chen on the DL prior to their series opener with a strained right oblique, which is an injury that could keep him sidelined beyond the 15-day minimum requirement.
Both Chen and Showalter are trying to remain optimistic, but the risk for re-aggravating the muscle often makes the recovery time slower than you’d like to see. Chen will travel to Sarasota toward the end of their current eight-game homestand, but he is not expected to begin throwing again until ample rest has been provided.
“I think there will be some things Wei-Yin will be able to do other than throw, but the actual throwing motion is the last thing that you do,” Showalter said. “It’s a challenge for the people that do it to decide when to do it. If it’s too early, you get another setback. It’s a slippery slope.”
Chen’s absence opens a gigantic hole in the starting rotation as the 27-year-old left-hander is 3-3 with a 3.04 ERA in eight starts this season. In addition to having the lowest ERA among Orioles starters, he was the only starter the club had last season to make more than 20 starts (32) and win more than nine games (12).
Obviously disappointed that he’s unable to pitch for the foreseeable future, Chen understands the importance of taking it slow with an injury commonly known to linger when a hurler tries to come back too soon.
“Fingers crossed for me,” Chen said through his interpreter. “This is a day-to-day progress. I cannot push myself too hard. I just will try to do my best.”
Gonzalez still an option for early next week
Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (blister) played catch on Tuesday and hopes to go on a minor-league rehab assignment later this week, which would keep him in line to return early next week.
Placed on the 15-day DL retroactive to May 4 with a nasty blister on his right thumb, Gonzalez’s progress has been slower than the club hoped, but the plan is for him to throw a bullpen session on Wednesday without the bandage he’s used to cover the tender area while playing catch. Showalter said Gonzalez wouldn’t necessarily need a length rehab outing on Thursday or Friday to put him in line to return on Tuesday when the Orioles will need a fifth starter.
However, the Orioles will be careful in fear of the skin breaking and beginning the recovery process all over again.
“If we rush it and I had to miss another two or three weeks, we don’t want to do that,” Gonzalez. “I want to be ready to go and be able to perform 100 percent.”
Odds & ends
In addition to Burnett replacing Chen, infielder Yamaico Navarro was recalled to take Mike Belfiore’s spot on the 25-man roster and give the Orioles an extra bench player for the next few days. … Left-handed pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada will begin his injury rehab assignment with a start for Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday afternoon. … Right-hander Jake Arrieta threw a bullpen session on Tuesday to test out his sore right shoulder. … Brian Roberts has begun riding a stationary bike in Sarasota as he recovers from right hamstring surgery. … Right-handed veteran Freddy Garcia will make the start against San Diego on Wednesday afternoon and Jason Hammel will start Friday in the series opener against Tampa Bay.