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BALTIMORE — Poised to become the Orioles’ 10th starting pitcher of the 2013 season, right-hander Jair Jurrjens isn’t treating Saturday’s debut against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Of course, that’s easier said than done after the Orioles cycled through Josh Stinson, Zach Britton, and Steve Johnson with each receiving one start and promptly being optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk after subpar performances. Among the four pitchers summoned to replace Jake Arrieta and the injured Miguel Gonzalez from the Opening Day rotation, only the 36-year-old Freddy Garcia — who can’t be optioned to the minors — has remained with the club beyond his first start.
Arriving in the Baltimore clubhouse Friday afternoon, Jurrjens expressed his gratitude for finally receiving the call after eight starts with the Tides, but he has 125 career starts and a 3.62 career ERA in the majors on his side to cope with any potential anxiety. Whether that means he’ll receive a longer leash remains to be seen as he can be optioned back to Norfolk should the Orioles not like what they see and need immediate bullpen help as a result.
“This is not my first time pitching in the big leagues,” said Jurrjens, who was 4-1 with a 3.14 ERA. “I am just going to take it as another game and try to eat innings and give the team the best performance I can.”
Jurrjens owned an opt-out clause in his contract that allowed him to become a free agent had he not been promoted to the big leagues by June 15, but that doesn’t prevent him from being optioned after making it to the 25-man roster. Of course, the Orioles entered Friday with just three starters in their current rotation and would like to see someone emerge as their fifth starter in addition to the anticipated Tuesday return of Gonzalez from the DL to ease concerns with the starting pitching.
The lingering concerns about Jurrjens’ knee over the last couple years are a thing of the past as strengthening exercises and his ability to repeat his mechanics have left him feeling better than he has in a few years, according to the pitcher. Questions about Jurrjens’ medical records delayed his signing with the Orioles this winter before executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette eventually inked the 2011 National League All-Star to a minor-league contract that included an invitation to spring training.
One of the most concerning aspects of Jurrjens’ decline from an All-Star pitcher to one with a 6.89 ERA who spent time in the minor leagues was the decline in velocity. The Curacao native saw his average fastball velocity dip from just above 91 miles per hour in 2010 to just about 88.5 mph last season.
Jurrjens features a fastball, sinker, slider, and changeup in his arsenal and carries a 53-37 record in his six-year career spent mostly with the Atlanta Braves. He will wear No. 49 with the Orioles.
“If the command is there, he’ll give us a chance to win,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s been a long journey for him. I don’t know if anxiety is the word, but he’ll have some [jitters]. He’s done this before. I think a lot of people miss — I know I did originally — how young he is. I’m anxious to see.”
In 51 2/3 innings, Jurrjens walked only 15 batters while striking out 36 and allowing 44 hits. The control hasn’t been an issue and his strikeout rate of 6.3 per nine innings is more than acceptable, but both Jurrjens and Showalter didn’t mention improvement in the pitcher’s velocity when asked about his progress.
As is the case with any pitcher promoted from Triple A to the big leagues, there will be questions whether his repertoire that worked against International League hitters will translate to success at the next level.
“It can be difficult [knowing], because down there, some guys just go up there and swing,” said Jurrjens, who claimed he hasn’t paid close attention to his velocity so far this season. “Here, some guys are more patient and they look for one pitch to hit.”
Gonzalez on Tuesday track
Gonzalez completed his simulated game at Camden Yards without any problems on Friday afternoon.
Showalter said prior to Friday’s game that the right-hander remains an option for Monday, but the club is leaning toward a Tuesday return from the 15-day disabled list for the 28-year-old. Gonzalez has been dealing with a nasty blister on his right thumb since the beginning of the month and is eligible to be activated from the DL on Sunday.
“You look at his face as much as you do his thumb,” Showalter said. “He feels good about it. I don’t expect something else to crop up. He did it today without the bandage on.”
Gonzalez threw roughly 50 pitches against several teammates after throwing 25 in the bullpen and was able to throw his entire array of pitches.
Roster move coming
The Orioles must make a roster move to add Jurrjens to the 40-man roster as well as to clear room on the active roster prior to his Saturday start.
Showalter said the club has a few different options in mind, with extra reliever Alex Burnett and infielder Yamaico Navarro assumed to be the most likely candidates. However, Navarro was in the lineup for Friday night’s game as Showalter said the 25-year-old deserved a look at second base. The organization likes Navarro’s bat, but there are some questions about his defense.
Navarro was hitting .303 in 147 plate appearances for the Tides, leading some to wonder whether struggling second baseman Ryan Flaherty might be the player to go on Saturday. Flaherty is hitting only .133 in 102 plate appearances and has struck out 26 times.
Playing 29 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, Navarro was acquired in exchange for pitcher Jhondaniel Medina on Nov. 30, 2012.
The Orioles announced Friday that catcher Taylor Teagarden (dislocated left thumb) had his splint removed.
Infielder Wilson Betemit began jogging in the pool as he continues his recovery in Sarasota from a Grade 2/3 PCL tear in his right knee. He remains on the 60-day DL and Showalter expressed hope earlier this week that he could return at some point in June.