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BALTIMORE — Orioles manager Buck Showalter offered a changeup to nearly everyone by announcing left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland will make his first major league start Friday against the Yankees instead of fellow rookie Kevin Gausman.
The assumption all week had been the latter would take the mound against New York after he was recalled Monday to pitch out of the bullpen if needed, but Showalter officially revealed his plan to go with McFarland following the Orioles’ 7-3 win over Cleveland on Thursday night.
“It’s his turn. He’s on four days of rest,” Showalter said. “He’s ready to go 80-plus pitches tomorrow, at least, and hopefully pitch five or six innings. The Yankees will have something to say about that. We’re in a position to cover whatever innings. We wanted to see how we did tonight.”
Gausman will be available to pitch out of the bullpen and could be a decent bet to receive some work on Friday with McFarland’s pitch count likely limiting him to four or five innings at most. McFarland, a Rule 5 selection that must remain on the 25-man roster all season or be offered back to Cleveland, has served as the long man in the bullpen through the first three months of the season.
McFarland is 1-0 with a 4.14 earned run average in 18 appearances covering 41 1/3 innings. He has averaged 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings pitched despite a sinking fastball that only sits in the high 80s.
“Mac is throwing the ball well and deserves an opportunity,” Showalter said. “We had a couple options. He was one of them, and that’s where we’re going to go tomorrow.”
A simple look at the Yankees lineup may have offered a better indication of which direction Showalter was leaning as Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, Robinson Cano, Lyle Overbay, and Travis Hafner are all left-handed hitters. McFarland has fared well against hitters from that side of the plate, holding them to a .250 average and striking out 21 of the 71 left-handed batters he’s faced this season.
With Wei-Yin Chen scheduled to make a rehab start for Double-A Bowie on Saturday, it’s possible that McFarland is only receiving a spot start as well as an opportunity to show what he can offer in a different role. The Taiwanese lefty could be activated from the disabled list as early as this coming week.
The only perplexing aspect of the decision is the use of Gausman in the bullpen considering he hasn’t pitched since June 19 when he made a start for Triple-A Norfolk. Assuming Chen’s rehab start goes well and he’s ready to return to the Baltimore rotation in his next outing — far from a guarantee — Gausman could be optioned back to Norfolk by the end of the weekend with McFarland moving back to his customary relief role.
Showalter also revealed that Brian Roberts won’t be activated from the DL for Friday night’s game, instead pointing to Saturday or Sunday as the more likely day for the 35-year-old second baseman’s return.