As the Orioles tried to figure out their convoluted pitching situation, they were faced with another roster challenge when leadoff hitter and second baseman Brian Roberts was taken to a local hospital Friday night to have testing done on his stomach.
Roberts, who has been one of the biggest reasons for the Orioles' 5-1 start with a .280 average and a team-leading two homers and eight RBIs, was scratched about 20 minutes before Friday's originally scheduled first pitch in the series opener against the Texas Rangers at Camden Yards. The Orioles aren't sure what is ailing Roberts, but decided to err on the side of caution.
Friday's game was ultimately postponed by rain and will be played as part of a straight single-admission doubleheader with the first game starting at 4:35 p.m. Saturday. Orioles rookie left-hander Zach Britton will start the first game against the Rangers' Colby Lewis, while Jake Arrieta will go in Game Two opposite Texas left-hander Matt Harrison.
It's unknown at this point if Roberts — who was limited to 59 games last season because of a herniated disk in his back and dealt with neck and back problems for much of the spring — will be available for Saturday's doubleheader, further complicating the roster dilemma for manager Buck Showalter and president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail.
When they left the ballpark Friday, Showalter and MacPhail weren't sure if their two starting middle infielders would be available Saturday, if they had enough bullpen arms to cover both games, or even who was going to start for the Orioles on Sunday.
Starters Brian Matusz (oblique) and Justin Duchscherer (hip/back) are already on the disabled list and top starter Jeremy Guthrie is questionable for Sunday after he spent two days in the hospital this week because of pneumonia. Guthrie threw a 40-pitch bullpen session Friday, but the team won't know until Saturday if he'll be able to pitch in Sunday's series finale.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy is also questionable for this weekend's series because of tightness in his left ribcage area, and his absence — coupled by Roberts' problems — could mean that the Orioles are missing their starting double-play combination for both games Saturday.
With reliever Josh Rupe throwing three innings Wednesday and Jeremy Accardo pitching 1 2/3 on Thursday, the Orioles also have few long-relief options for this weekend against the heavy-hitting Rangers.
"Andy [MacPhail] and I have been talking a lot — after the game [Thursday] night and [Friday] — about a lot of different plans and contingency stuff," Showalter said. "It's kind of a moving target right now. We'll see how we get out of this game tonight."
Showalter said the team is considering options for this weekend, which could mean the promotion of at least one pitcher from Triple-A Norfolk. The most likely candidate is lefty Troy Patton, who is on the 40-man roster, didn't pitch for Norfolk on Thursday and has been used as insurance before. Last year, he was called up three times and pitched one game.
The problem with Patton, or any member of the 40-man roster currently in the minors, is that he cannot be recalled until Sunday, because any player who was optioned prior to the start of the major league season on March 31 must remain in the minors for 10 days. The only exception is when that player replaces an injured member of the 25-man roster, like Britton did Sunday when Matusz was placed on the disabled list.
A player not on the 40-man roster, such as Triple-A starter Chris Jakubauskas, could be added at any time, so long as he is placed on the Orioles' 25-man and 40-man rosters. The Orioles' current 40-man roster sits at 39.
Showalter didn't name names, but he said if a move has to be made to add a relief arm — and the Orioles could make that decision between the two games Saturday if Britton is unable to log some innings — the corresponding transaction would also involve a pitcher. The Orioles' offensive reserves — Izturis, Robert Andino, Jake Fox and Felix Pie — all would have to clear waivers before being sent to the minors, so they will not be involved in this potential move, Showalter said.
One possibility would be to send a starter with minor league options, such as Brad Bergesen or Chris Tillman, to Norfolk to make room for bullpen help. It was originally possible for the Orioles to skip one of their starters because of Monday's off day, but that may not be feasible with Saturday's doubleheader.