BALTIMORE — On the same day Matt Wieters began a rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie, the Orioles recalled Pigtown native Steve Clevenger from Triple-A Norfolk and designated catcher Ryan Lavarnway for assignment.
Looking for more offense as well as some versatility off the bench, the Orioles elected to bring up Clevenger, who has played first base, second base, and third base in addition to catching in his minor-league career and was hitting an impressive .352 with an .864 on-base plus slugging percentage in 91 at-bats for the Tides. Meanwhile, the 27-year-old Lavarnway was just 3-for-28 in sporadic playing time behind starter Caleb Joseph this season.
In Sunday’s loss to Miami, Lavarnway went 0-for-4 and left seven runners on base in his final three plate appearances.
The Orioles have challenged Clevenger to improve his defense, and manager Buck Showalter said the 29-year-old has done that, throwing out 32 percent of runners attempting to steal in the International League this season. Clevenger appeared in 35 games for the Orioles last season before being demoted in favor of Joseph and Nick Hundley when Wieters was lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery.
“I went down there on a mission,” Clevenger said. “Coming into spring training this year, I wanted to focus more on my catching and I tried to do that. I went down [to Norfolk] and played very well and just tried to concentrate on my catching and helping the pitchers do what they can do best and not worry about anything else. I was playing solid defense down there.”
The initial plan for Wieters is to have him catch every other day at Bowie — he could serve as the designated hitter on the non-catching days — with the goal of activating him when he becomes eligible on June 4. His return would likely push Clevenger back to Norfolk, but Showalter didn’t rule out the possibility of the club keeping three catchers since Clevenger does provide a left-handed bat off the bench with the ability to play other infield positions in a pinch.
The Orioles would like to keep Lavarnway in the organization, but they will gauge interest from other clubs before trying to pass him through waivers and outright him to Norfolk. The former Boston Red Sox product may decline a minor-league assignment and become a free agent, however.
Showalter acknowledged that Clevenger is probably better equipped to handle infrequent playing time, but the Norfolk coaching staff provided favorable reports about his defensive progress this season.
“I try to be blunt to a fault about what they need to do while they’re there,” Showalter said. “I talked about continuing to be engaged with the pitcher and catching and throwing. I said, ‘You’re going to be out of options next year, you’re going to control all this. Try to present yourself for us and everybody else in the game as good as possible. Go down there and lead the league in hitting.'”
Clevenger didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify, but his average ranked second in the International League batting race at the time of his promotion.
Hardy returns to lineup
A day after being removed in the eighth inning of the series opener against Houston due to back stiffness, shortstop J.J. Hardy returned to the Orioles lineup Tuesday night.
The 32-year-old said he was feeling better and likely benefited from sleeping in his own bed after hypothesizing that a soft hotel mattress in Miami caused the problem over the weekend. Hardy spent the entire offseason focusing on strengthening his core in hopes of avoiding the nagging back spasms that limited him to just 141 games and nine home runs in 2014.
“It is definitely experience,” said Hardy about past problems giving him a good indicator. “When I first went through back issues, I didn’t know what to do, and now I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it. I think Buck definitely made the right decision, but I still wanted to stay in there [Monday].”
Bundy’s shoulder OK
After being scratched from Tuesday’s start at Bowie, pitching prospect Dylan Bundy’s shoulder examination went well with Showalter saying there were no structural concerns.
However, the 22-year-old told reporters in Bowie he planned to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam on his right shoulder on Wednesday just to be on the safe side. He was prescribed anti-inflammatory medicine for a mild case of shoulder tendinitis.
The 2011 first-round pick is 0-3 with a 3.68 ERA in eight starts (22 innings) for the Baysox this season.
Infielder Ryan Flaherty was leading off and playing second base for Norfolk on Tuesday as he continues his minor-league rehab assignment.
Serving two different stints on the 15-day disabled list for a lingering groin injury, Flaherty could rejoin the Orioles as early as Wednesday, according to Showalter. His return would leave the organization with an interesting roster decision as veteran Everth Cabrera is out of options and hitting just .205 this season.
Odds & ends
Rookie Mike Wright will start one game of Thursday’s doubleheader with the other starter being either Tyler Wilson or T.J. McFarland. Both had abbreviated outings for Norfolk this week with the possiblility of Thursday in mind.
No Orioles players were leading their positions in the first All-Star Game voting update released Tuesday, but Jones ranked fourth among American League outfielders. Manny Machado ranked fourth among AL third baseman while Joseph was fifth among AL catchers.
Former Orioles first baseman Calvin Pickering has been hired as the hitting coach for short-season Single-A Aberdeen.
Baltimore ranks first in the majors in outfield assists with 12. Delmon Young is tied for third in the American League with five while Adam Jones has three.