ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Orioles' most heralded pitching prospect is coming up to start Sunday, but at the expense of one the club's other top young hurlers.
The Orioles announced after their 4-1 Opening Night victory against the Tampa Bay Rays that left-hander Brian Matusz will be placed on the disabled list with an intercostals strain near the left side of his back. He will be sidelined roughly a month.
"Could be anywhere from three to five [weeks] to four to six weeks," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "You've just got to play it out."
To make room for Matusz, the Orioles are calling up 23-year-old lefty Zach Britton, who allowed just three runs in 20 innings this spring but was sent down Monday to get more time at Triple-A Norfolk and to delay the start of his service-time clock.
Britton learned the news from MacPhail just before 10 p.m. Friday.
"Shocked, I guess that's the only way to say it," Britton said.
Britton will make his major league debut Sunday against Rays' right-hander Wade Davis. Chris Tillman, who was supposed to pitch Sunday, will instead start Saturday night against James Shields.
"In my view, Chris' day is [Saturday], he can pitch [Saturday]," MacPhail said. "Zach is eligible to pitch on Sunday, and we can sort of keep things in line."
Said Britton about getting his first start: "I have no words right now. I have no idea [what to say]. Obviously, someone had to get hurt, and I am not happy about that. I'd rather wait my time in Triple-A than have someone get hurt. But I will try to fill in as best I can."
The Orioles were hoping he would be in Triple-A, too -- at least for 20 days, guaranteeing that he would not get a full year of service time in 2011 and thus delaying his free agency until 2017. But that wasn't in the cards, MacPhail said.
"Sometimes fates just don't allow it, and you've got to do what you've got to do," MacPhail said. "We thought we had five starters and Zach would be sixth and Justin [Duchscherer] seven. Unfortunately, we lost one before we threw a pitch."
Matusz said he felt soreness in his "lat area" roughly "four or five days ago," but when he tried to play catch Friday it became "really painful. I mentioned it to the trainers, and that's when I got it taken care of."
"It's the muscle right in between my ribs and my back. It's a strain," Matusz said. "I put a cortisone shot in there in hopes to heal the process. The doctor said it's going to be about three or four weeks and the next seven to 10 days, I'm not going to throw at all. Just ice and rehab. I'm going to take it from there."
He said he was disappointed with not being able to pitch in the club's second game.
"It's real tough, especially opening the season today, all the excitement and energy," Matusz said. "How well we played today, it was a lot of fun to watch. To have this happen is tough. It's not easy. I'm just going to have to work to get better each and every day and take it one day at a time."
Rupe seizes opportunity
Perhaps the biggest surprise to make the Orioles' 25-man roster is right-handed reliever Josh Rupe, the only nonroster invitee to break camp with the club.
When he agreed to a minor league deal in November, Rupe, 28, felt he had a chance to make the team, assuming he got a legitimate opportunity. He knew Showalter and Connor from his days with the Texas Rangers and trusted he would get a shot to compete.
"There were a lot of good pitchers in this camp. I thought if I went out and performed, that my stuff can be as good as anybody's," said Rupe, who has pitched for the Rangers and Kansas City Royals. "Coming in, basically, I just wanted to give them a hard decision."
He did, allowing just two earned runs in 142/3 innings, which included seven straight scoreless outings. A 2002 third-round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox, he participated in one other big league Opening Day, 2008 with the Rangers.
"This is my second Opening Day, and my first time [to play] in the majors was 2005, so it has been a bit of a rocky run," he said. "But it has been a good run. And coming here was good."
Markakis plays right into O's history
Nick Markakis extended his own team record Friday, becoming the only player in modern franchise history to start five consecutive Opening Days in right field for the Orioles, according to baseball-reference.com.
Five Opening Day starts in right field also ties him for the second-highest total in modern franchise history with Frank Robinson (1966-1967, 1969-1971), one behind Ken Singleton (1975-1977, 1979-1981), according to the website.