The Orioles optioned infielder Jose Leon to Triple-A Ottawa after yesterday's game, freeing a spot on the roster that apparently will go to a minor-league call-up instead of B.J. Surhoff, who's eligible to come off the disabled list today.
It also could touch off other moves before the club begins a two-city road trip tomorrow night in Anaheim, Calif.
The Orioles are growing more curious about Carlos Mendez, signed in November as a minor league free agent. His .384 average is second in the International League, and his 66 hits ranked first. He also has four homers, 33 RBIs. He went 4-for-5 yesterday.
Mendez, who never reached the majors in 12 professional seasons, has been playing first base at Ottawa and also can catch, but is regarded as below average defensively. He's not on the 40-man roster, but adding him wouldn't require a corresponding move because the Orioles are at 39.
Surhoff might not be in the lineup tomorrow. He hasn't played since straining his right hamstring May 3.
"My hamstring's doing fine. I think it's where it needs to be," he said. "I took the first five days off, and I've been able to do activities since then. I was running in the outfield as hard as I could and I didn't feel anything. My hamstring is capable of playing right now. I don't have any doubts that it's fine."
Surhoff tested his leg Saturday by taking extra swings in the cage and chasing balls in the outfield. "I tried to do the things I needed to do and fatigue myself and make sure it was still going to hold up," he said.
While the Orioles travel today, they're contemplating a series of moves that could affect the 25- and 40-man rosters.
They continue to check the waiver wire for available hitters. The Orioles appear to have interest in infielder Felix Escalona, who was designated for assignment by the Devil Rays over the weekend. They'll try to claim him off waivers today and send him to the minors, which would require moving Marty Cordova to the 60-day disabled list to make room on the 40-man roster.
If Mendez weren't so enticing, they still could have reached into the farm system, where they would find a handful of choices besides Mendez.
Luis Matos is batting .313, with 15 doubles, four triples and 23 RBIs. Darnell McDonald, taken in the first round of the 1997 draft, is hitting .296 with 20 RBIs. And Brian Roberts, who has been playing shortstop lately, is batting .308 with 19 stolen bases.
"We've got more options than we've had since I've gotten here," Hargrove said.
Leon appeared in only two games since May 1. He was hitting .190 in 21 at-bats, and Larry Bigbie's recent contributions made him more expendable.
Matthews back in lineup
Gary Matthews' benching lasted one game.
Reversing a decision he confirmed Saturday, manager Mike Hargrove returned Matthews to the lineup yesterday because of the outfielder's career numbers against Tampa Bay Devil Rays left-hander Joe Kennedy. Matthews was 4-for-13 against him but was hitless in three at-bats yesterday before Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella went to his bullpen.
"We said we'd run him out there and see what happens," Hargrove said. "It may be that he gets the next five days off."
Matthews is 7-for-51 (.137) in his past 14 games. He didn't play Saturday, and Hargrove lifted him for a pinch hitter in the eighth inning yesterday. After the game, Hargrove called Matthews into his office.
Groom struggles again
The mechanical adjustment Buddy Groom made last week served him well Saturday, when he pitched a perfect eighth inning to help preserve the shutout. But his struggles resurfaced yesterday when he allowed three runs in the eighth.
Groom didn't surrender an earned run in his first 11 appearances, but opponents have scored in four of his past five outings. He has permitted nine earned runs in his past three innings.
Groom noticed he was collapsing too much on his back leg during his delivery. "Things like that happen and you don't realize it a lot of times until the pitching coach brings it up," he said.
Bedard to begin throwing
Erik Bedard, considered by many the Orioles' top prospect, is scheduled to throw off a mound tomorrow for the first time since having ligament-transplant surgery in his left elbow.
Bedard continues to rehab at the minor league complex in Sarasota, Fla. The next stage of his program involves throwing for about five minutes at 50 percent effort. "Maybe not even at a full distance," said Dave Schmidt, the Orioles' roving minor league pitching coordinator.
The Orioles won't allow Bedard to pitch until the fall instructional league. He's expected to begin the 2004 season at Double-A Bowie, where he could be joined by 2000 No. 1 draft pick Beau Hale.
Hale also won't pitch this season after having surgery in March to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. He continues to work with a physical therapist in Houston, in the same building with the doctor who did the procedure.
"The reports we're getting on him are real good," Schmidt said.
The Orioles are hoping that Hale will join Bedard in Sarasota next month.
Left-hander Chris Smith, a 2001 first-round pick, remains on a throwing program in Sarasota after having shoulder surgery.