Orioles relief pitcher Michael Gonzalez (51) is removed from… (Mitch Stringer / US PRESSWIRE…)
Orioles manager Buck Showalter confirmed today that injured starter Brian Matusz won't be ready to return to the big league rotation until mid-May at the earliest.
Matusz, who hasn't pitched this year because of a strained left intercostal muscle, will head back to the team's spring training complex in Sarasota when the team leaves for a road trip following Thursday's series finale against the Boston Red Sox.
"That's way far ahead of where I am at in my process of getting back," Matusz said. "I haven't thought that far ahead. This is my first time going through an injury and having to rehab myself back to get back to my season form. I have never had to do that before so it is all new to me."
Showalter said that the young left-hander will need to make at least three rehab appearances, along with a two-inning stint in an extended spring training game before he's ready to pitch in the big leagues.
"We've set up his whole schedule in the most conservative scenario of when he'd be able to pitch in the big leagues again if everything went on time," Showalter said. "He could be moved up, but we'd have to feel comfortable with it. … It's pretty one-sided for all of us. We're going to get it right. We're not going to have this [continue]."
Matusz's immediate focus is on his scheduled flat-ground session Sunday, when he'll throw from 120 feet. If all goes well, he'll throw bullpen sessions on Tuesday and Thursday in front of pitching coach Mark Connor and bullpen coach Rick Adair before he heads back to Florida.
"He's close to pitching," Showalter said. "One, we know that the weather will be better there and we'd like to have his first outing be in that type of weather. Who knows what it's going to be [with] our affiliates? We'd rather have him right there so when he's ready to go, he can go, and we can kind of pick and choose where the best place might be from there."
In other injury news, shortstop J.J Hardy (strained left oblique) is scheduled to take some dry swings on Monday, his first baseball activities since going on the disabled list. Hardy's return remains a ways off and Showalter said that the shortstop will need to play in at least two rehab games before rejoining the club.
"That's kind of a moving target," he said. "That's something we'll kind of lean on J.J. if he feels comfortable with it from an at-bat standpoint. I would say at a minimum of two."
Tillman misses chance
Orioles starter Chris Tillman talked in the days leading up to his expected start this weekend about how much he was looking forward to getting a chance to redeem himself against the New York Yankees. When he faced them on April 13 at Yankee Stadium, Tillman allowed six runs on nine hits and a walk over 1 2/3 innings.
However, Tillman learned Friday that he won't get that opportunity, at least not in this series. The Orioles decided to skip the young right-hander's spot in the rotation as he deals with right groin soreness. Tillman was originally expected to start tonight but Brad Bergesen, whose scheduled start Friday was rained out, got the nod.
"It's a lot disappointing," said Tillman. "I'm not happy about it, but I think it's an issue that if we don't take care of it, it can be a lot longer. I think history has proven that. I'd rather get it out of the way now than have to deal with it throughout the whole season."
Tillman said that he felt the soreness after slipping a couple of times during his last start against the Minnesota Twins. He's had similar groin issues in previous seasons and he said the discomfort he is experiencing now is less than what he's been able to pitch through in the past.
For now, Tillman will be available in the bullpen before he's tentatively scheduled to start next Saturday in the Chicago, the next time the Orioles need a fifth starter.
Waiting for lefties
Jake Fox got the start in left field tonight with left-hander CC Sabathia on the mound for the Yankees. It was not the easiest assignment for a player who had gone four days without facing big league pitching, but Fox is happy to be in the lineup. Tonight marked just his fifth start in the Orioles' 19 games.
"I was hoping for more, but I will take whatever they can give me and do whatever I can do to help the team win," Fox said.
Fox, who had 10 home runs and 15 RBIs in the spring, made the team as the lone backup for catcher Matt Wieters. He has started twice behind the plate and three times in left field as Showalter has used him out there to get another right-handed bat in the lineup against left-handed pitching.
"It comes to the point where I look ahead in the schedule to see when a lefty is pitching and I might have a chance to play," said Fox who entered tonight hitting .143 (2-for-14) with a solo homer. "It's hard to say. Obviously, I want more responsibility but I need to do well with the responsibility that they give me now and do it to the best of my ability and help the team win."
Around the horn
The Orioles went with the same lineup that was scheduled to play on Friday before the rainout … First base prospect Joe Mahoney, the Orioles' minor league player of the year last season, could return to the Double-A Bowie lineup on Monday, said Orioles Director of Player Development John Stockstill. Mahoney has been out since April 9 with a quadriceps injury ... Triple-A Norfolk left-hander Troy Patton (shoulder strain) was activated from the minor league disabled list and Steve Johnson (St. Paul's) was transferred from Norfolk to Double-A Bowie … The Yankees announced that Freddy Garcia will start Sunday opposite Jake Arrieta, meaning that the Orioles will miss Ivan Nova in the series … Several Orioles, including Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Felix Pie, are sporting faux hawk haircuts.
Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.