Pondering second-half roles for Britton, Gausman, S. Johnson

July 10, 2013 | Luke Jones

Pondering second-half roles for Britton, Gausman, S. Johnson

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BALTIMORE — After optioning pitchers Zach Britton and Kevin Gausman to Triple-A Norfolk after Tuesday’s game, the Orioles are now faced with the interesting question of how each will fit into their plans in the second half of the season.

The return of left-hander Wei-Yin Chen after nearly two months takes away a spot in the starting rotation and hopefully provides more stability than the Orioles have enjoyed since the start of the season. The starting five of Chen, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Jason Hammel, and Scott Feldman doesn’t appear to have any candidates dangerously close to being removed from the rotation, so the question of what to potentially do with Britton and Gausman becomes more interesting.

Josh Stinson’s promotion to the Baltimore bullpen wouldn’t figure to be a long-term solution, but the right-hander provides length that Britton nor Gausman would have been able to offer for at least a couple days. As a result, the two will complete a workday in Norfolk before split pitching duties in Sunday’s game before the International League has its own All-Star break next week.

Though manager Buck Showalter said Tuesday that Gausman working out of the bullpen was a positive in terms of further acclimating himself to playing in the big leagues, the infrequent work he received was a major drawback as opposed to him pitching every fifth day in either Baltimore or Norfolk. Should a need arise due to injury or ineffectiveness, you’d expect Gausman to be near the top of the list of candidates to crack the rotation in the second half.

The thought of Gausman serving in a relief role late in the season is an intriguing one with his tremendous velocity, but it makes more sense for him to pitch regularly and to continue to develop his secondary pitches at Triple A instead of serving in long relief for the Orioles with just under half of the season remaining.

What to do with Britton is a much more interesting case as I broke down his shortcomings following last night’s game. It appears that his best chance for making a contribution to the 2013 Orioles would be as a reliever, but finding a spot for him appears tricky at the moment.

The club already has T.J. McFarland as a long reliever and you wouldn’t expect a second left-hander in that role to be a great fit. Brian Matusz and Troy Patton are also in the bullpen, so carrying a third middle reliever or specialist from the left side doesn’t sound ideal either. For what it’s worth in a small sample size this season, lefties are hitting .325 in 45 plate appearances against Britton while right-handed hitters own a .292 average in 109 plate appearances.

As for the spot currently being held by Stinson in the bullpen, right-hander Steve Johnson would appear to be a good option after the break as he was essentially serving in that role while former Oriole Pedro Strop was on the disabled list earlier this season. Johnson threw off the mound for the first time in Sarasota on Monday and will throw live batting practice on Thursday.

Johnson would be a great fit as a right-hander who can provide length — unlike Strop, which made it virtually impossible to continue to hide his struggles in the bullpen prior to last week’s trade — as well as the ability to contribute in the later innings when necessary. While the club is remaining cautious with his recovery from a strained left oblique, it wouldn’t be farfetched to see Johnson in the bullpen shortly after the second half begins.

In other injury-related news, infield prospect Jonathan Schoop will begin a minor-league rehab assignment with the Gulf Coast League Orioles. It had previously been thought that Schoop would complete his stint with Aberdeen before returning to Triple-A Norfolk, but the club will instead keep him in Florida.

Outfielder Steve Pearce underwent an MRA on his left wrist in Sarasota to check for any structural damage as progress has been slow for his recovery. On the DL since June 21, Pearce’s right wrist is feeling better, but he’s been unable to increase his activity level because of continuing discomfort in the other wrist.

Showalter acknowledged lefty Tsuyoshi Wada was someone the club briefly considered before recalling Stinson for Gausman’s vacated spot, but the Orioles would like to see Wada continue to make progress with the Tides. Asked about his potential second-half role with the club, the Orioles manager said Wada wouldn’t appear to be a candidate for a relief role, making his timetable for a potential major league debut cloudier.

Wada has allowed two or fewer runs in each of his last four starts, but the organization feels it’s best for him to continue to pitch every five days instead of in the long-relief role that Stinson will serve over the remainder of the homestand. It also made sense for the right-hander Stinson to be available to back up the lefty Chen on Wednesday night and the Orioles already have McFarland in that role from the left side.

Infielder Wilson Betemit continues to make slow progress and participate in baseball-related activities “as tolerated” while recovering from the torn PCL in his right knee suffered during spring training. Showalter remains optimistic that Betemit will be able to contribute at some point in the second half, but there is no firm timetable for the veteran to even participate in sim games let alone project a return date to Baltimore.

Reserve outfielder Chris Dickson was scheduled to serve as the designated hitter in Wednesday’s game but was a late scratch as Nolan Reimold replaced him in the lineup. No immediate reason was given prior to the third game of a four-game set with the Texas Rangers.

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