Ailing Hernandez could be out for entire first series

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Catcher has hurt side

Burres demoted

April 03, 2007|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun reporter

MINNEAPOLIS -- Just a day after deciding to go with a 13-man pitching staff, the Orioles were forced to shift their plans after learning that starting catcher Ramon Hernandez could miss the season-opening three-game series against the Minnesota Twins with a strained left oblique muscle.

Hernandez hurt his side in spring training and aggravated the injury swinging in Friday's exhibition game against the Washington Nationals in Norfolk, Va. He's available in emergency situations, but the Orioles are hoping to not have to use him against Minnesota.

"I can swing, but it hurts," Hernandez said. "It's getting better. I'll probably be out for a few days, hopefully three or four days. Who knows? Tomorrow, if I'm feeling good, I'll start swinging the bat. ...

"It's one of those things that bothers you a little bit, but you can live with it. ... But if it gets worse, you might miss a long time. I don't want that to happen, so that's why I shut it down now."

The Orioles have called up Alberto Castillo from Triple-A Norfolk to serve as a backup to Paul Bako and optioned left-handed reliever Brian Burres to Norfolk. Burres learned Saturday that he won the 13th and final spot on the Orioles' pitching staff, but was called into the manager's office about 2 1/2 hours before last night's opener and informed that he was heading down.

"It was tough," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. "He was very understanding. We feel like Brian is going to be up here one way or another at some point."

Burres will need to stay in the minors for at least 10 days before he is allowed to be recalled. Perlozzo said that he isn't sure if the club will go back to 13 pitchers when Hernandez is ready to return.

"Thirteen is an usually large number for you to take in the first place," said Perlozzo, whose club was the only one with 13 pitchers on the Opening Day roster. "I would hope that in three days, we'll be able to get through this. The game will dictate that, but I feel comfortable with our starters getting us deep enough in games. I think that will be a day-to-day thing for us, or week-to-week. We'll just keep evaluating it."

While Hernandez is out, Perlozzo said Bako will be the primary starter over Castillo, who was acquired March 27 in a trade with the Boston Red Sox.

"We don't need [Hernandez] to play through an injury on April 2," Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said. "If this was September, it may be a different story."

Williams in limbo

The Orioles continue to explore potential trades for veteran reliever Todd Williams, who cleared waivers and was optioned to Norfolk on Sunday. Duquette said the club isn't close to a deal.

"We're going to explore different opportunities if they present themselves," Duquette said. "Right now, there haven't been any opportunities where we wouldn't have had to take on salary."

According to a baseball source, the Orioles turned down the Colorado Rockies' offer of starting pitcher Byung Hyun Kim for Williams and the New York Mets' offer of pitcher Jorge Sosa for Williams.

Tom O'Connell, Williams' agent, said yesterday that Williams was extremely disappointed that he didn't make the club.

"We were totally shocked," O'Connell said. "He understands he has to go to Triple-A and have a good start and hopefully be back in the big leagues quickly, if not with the Orioles, then another team."

Rowell on shelf

Orioles director of minor league operations David Stock- still said yesterday that third baseman Bill Rowell, widely considered the club's top prospect, may start swinging a bat later this week, but is still probably "two to three" weeks away from playing.

Rowell, 18, the Orioles' first pick in the 2006 draft, has not played this spring because of a strained oblique muscle. Rowell, who hit .328 with three home runs and 32 RBIs during his first season in the minors, will remain at the club's minor league facility in Sarasota, Fla., until he is ready to report to Single-A Delmarva.

Who's counting?

Perlozzo said that as long as his starters are pitching well, he would have no problem allowing them to throw around 100 pitches in their first starts.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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