Orioles catcher Matt Wieters looks at a ball hit by Jake Fox that… (AP photo )
The Orioles will start the second half of the season Friday without one of their prized young players. Switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters was placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday, a move that will keep him out of the lineup until July 25 at the earliest.
Wieters suffered a strained right hamstring running the bases last Friday in the Orioles' 7-6 victory over the Texas Rangers. He had missed the previous night's game with tightness in his hamstring, but he aggravated the injury when he rounded second base in the fifth inning and fell awkwardly. He limped safely to third before leaving the game.
By holding Wieters out of the last two games of the first half, as well as the four-day All-Star break, the Orioles were hoping the catcher would be ready to go by Friday, when they begin a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays and a 10-game homestand, their longest of the season. Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said Thursday that Wieters' condition had improved, but ultimately the club decided to exercise caution with the 24-year-old, who will make his first career trip to the DL. The move is retroactive to Saturday.
A corresponding roster move has not been announced. However, it's expected that the Orioles will use utility man Jake Fox as the primary catching backup for Craig Tatum and then call up Josh Bell for the second time this month. The third base prospect made his big league debut July 1 and went 3-for-15 while getting four starts before he was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday to make room for starter Chris Tillman.
Tatum has started three of the Orioles' past four games and 19 total this season. The 27-year-old, whom the Orioles claimed off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds in November, is batting .246 (15-for-61) with five RBIs. However, team officials have been pleased with the way he has handled the pitching staff, evidenced by the fact that the Orioles are 10-9 in games Tatum started.
But Wieters' absence isn't coming at a good time as the Orioles are riding a four-game winning streak and appeared to be getting closer to full strength. Two-time All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts, who has been out since April 9 because of a herniated disk in his back, went 2-for-3 in a Gulf Coast game Thursday and is 7-for-9 over three games. He's expected to continue his rehabilitation assignment at Double-A Bowie early next week.
Luke Scott (strained left hamstring) also played his first rehab game Thursday, going 1-for-3 with a two-run single for the Gulf Coast Orioles. He's eligible to come off the disabled list Friday, though his return is probably a week to 10 days away
Reliever Michael Gonzalez (strained left shoulder) is scheduled to make an appearance for Triple-A Norfolk on Friday, and he's getting closer to a return.
Orioles outfielder Felix Pie, who strained his left quadriceps in the same game Wieters went down and missed the final two games before the break, is expected to be available Friday.
Wieters has struggled in his second season, batting .245 with six homers and 29 RBIs. However, he had been showing signs lately of breaking out with hits in five straight games. In seven games this month, Wieters was 8-for-25 (.320) with two doubles, a triple and three RBIs. He batted just .211 in June and .221 in May.
In preparation for their second-half opener Friday, the Orioles held a workout Thursday at Camden Yards that was closed to the media and fans. Wieters didn't return a phone call seeking comment.
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