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BALTIMORE — With the Orioles needing to make a roster move to create a spot for the returning Miguel Gonzalez on Tuesday night, most assumed right-handed pitcher Jake Arrieta would be the one to go, but right-handed starter Jair Jurrjens was instead optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.
Perhaps the news shouldn’t have come as a surprise as Jurrjens became the fifth starting pitcher this season to be optioned back to the minor leagues after making just one start in Baltimore. Manager Buck Showalter explained the need to keep Arrieta available in the bullpen with a certain amount of mystery remaining in Gonzalez’s return from a blister on his right thumb that’s kept him sidelined since his start in Anaheim on May 3. Jurrjens wouldn’t have been available to give the club length out of the bullpen on Tuesday, according to the manager.
Jurrjens joins Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, and Josh Stinson as pitchers promoted from Norfolk who were optioned after their only start with the Orioles this year.
“They’re all tough anytime you’re sending guys down,” Showalter said. “But, there are some people who didn’t think he would get that [opportunity] this year. I think he knows that we’ve shown him and our guys where we’re going when there’s a need. I hope not, but I’m sure there will be another need this year. It could be sooner rather than later.”
Making his 2013 debut last Saturday after going 4-1 with a 3.14 earned run average in eight starts with the Tides, Jurrjens allowed four earned runs and six hits in five innings of work. However, all six hits were of the extra-base variety as the 27-year-old struck out five and walked one but didn’t factor into the decision.
Jurrjens declined comment in the Orioles clubhouse after learning of his demotion. He would be eligible to return to the 25-man roster in 10 days barring an injury that would force someone else to the 15-day disabled list.
“We need length in our bullpen as most clubs do,” Showalter said. “As always we are going to lean on protecting our bullpen and pitching staff and keep the length down there.”
The decision leaves the Orioles without a starter for the series opener in Toronto on Thursday, but Showalter named Arrieta as well as left-handed long reliever T.J. McFarland as the candidates. Of course, Arrieta began the year in the starting rotation before being optioned to Norfolk after posting a 6.63 ERA in four starts with the Orioles. He was summoned back to Baltimore on Saturday to serve in a long relief role but has yet to appear in a game.
Arrieta experience some tightness in his right shoulder earlier this month and hadn’t made a start for Norfolk since May 7, but Showalter said they’ve provided the 27-year-old with some simulated game work since he was recalled.
Meanwhile, the 23-year-old McFarland has quietly turned heads with a 2.61 ERA in 10 appearances covering 20 2/3 innings. A Rule 5 pick out of the Cleveland Indians system, McFarland doesn’t impress you on the surface with his 87 mph sinker, but he’s struck out 22 while allowing 23 hits and seven walks in his rookie season.
While Showalter didn’t officially name his choice for Thursday’s game, his comments reflected that he was leaning toward McFarland, praising him for his work in long relief and mentioning the reward at this level is “an opportunity to do more.” The manager acknowledged that Arrieta would have the ability to go deeper into the game from a pitch-count standpoint but estimated that McFarland could give the club somewhere between 75 and 90 pitches.
McFarland hasn’t thrown more than 53 pitches in any of his 10 outings this season, making one assume the lower portion of that range would be more realistic.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of which way Showalter is leaning was mentioning how a pitcher fares in a certain ballpark — in this case, Rogers Centre in Toronto. Arrieta has a 7.31 ERA in three career starts in the building formerly known as SkyDome while the rookie McFarland has never pitched there.
Of course, Showalter could have simply been presenting a smokescreen while having every intention of giving Arrieta the ball on Thursday while keeping the Blue Jays — and the rest of us — guessing.
As has been the case all season, circumstances could change quickly should Gonzalez or Jason Hammel — or both — have short outings that would force either Arrieta or McFarland into relief action before Thursday.
NOTES: Regular center fielder Adam Jones served as the designated hitter for Tuesday’s game after dealing with some right leg soreness. The 27-year-old downplayed any injury and lobbied to play the field, but Showalter saw it as an opportunity for Jones to rest his legs while remaining in the lineup. … Nolan Reimold (right hamstring) may travel with the Orioles to Toronto and take early batting practice as he continues to work his way back from the disabled list. Showalter still anticipates sending Reimold to a minor-league affiliate for some at-bats before potentially making his return. He is eligible to return from the DL on May 27, but it would appear he won’t be ready until at least some time after that. … Backup catcher Taylor Teagarden (dislocated left thumb) could begin playing in extended spring training games as early as next Monday. … Struggling starter Jason Hammel told reporters he threw all fastballs in his bullpen session since he’s struggled to command both his four-seam and two-seam pitches at different points this season. He currently sports a 5.72 ERA in nine starts this season.