Orioles' Hardy's first game in cold weather cause for 'concern'

Shortstop says he's over strained oblique

May 16, 2011|By Peter Schmuck, The Baltimore Sun

BOSTON — The intermittent showers that fell on Fenway Park were just half of the climate-related concerns facing manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles on Monday. While the rain threatened to wreak minor havoc on the pitching schedule, the mid-40s temperature was also an issue.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy has been back in the lineup for a week after missing a month with a strained oblique, but he was scheduled to take the field for the first time in truly chilly conditions, and Showalter was crossing his fingers.

"It's part of playing up here," Showalter said. "We have to play in all sorts of conditions. I guess you could say the same thing in August. You hope that guys don't get dehydrated because that can increase the chances of pulling a muscle. But knowing J.J.'s history recently, there might be a little extra concern."

Hardy, however, was quick to try to put his manager's mind at ease.

"If it was the first game back, I might be a little more nervous," he said, "but six or seven games or something like that … I think [the injury] is in the past."

If his performance has been any indication, it's easy to take him at his word. He has done nothing on the field that would indicate he's limited in any way. He has delivered big hits and big plays from the moment he returned to the lineup — including a game-turning grand slam in Sunday's series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Hardy said he has surprised even himself with how comfortable he has been at the plate.

"I felt like that at [Triple-A] Norfolk, like I was seeing the ball better than I should have," he said. "I told them it was 100 percent as far I was concerned when I came back. I went through some normal soreness, but I had gotten a lot of playing time in spring training, so it was not like I was going from scratch."

Though he continues to be a catalytic player — as the Orioles' 9-3 record with him in the lineup seems to indicate — Hardy chooses to view his quick comeback and the club's recent surge as coincidental.

"[Robert] Andino played unbelievable while I was gone, so it wasn't like it [Hardy's absence] was hurting us offensively," he said.

Izturis has hand issue

Infielder Cesar Izturis left the team before Monday night's game and traveled back to Baltimore to be examined by team orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens after experiencing loss of feeling in the fourth and fifth fingers on his throwing hand.

The team should know more by Tuesday afternoon.

In other injury news, Justin Duchscherer will pitch about four innings in an extended spring training game Wednesday. He'll be limited to 45 pitches but could go longer than four innings if his pitch count is low. He will pitch again four days later with a 60-pitch limit if all goes well.

Rotation ramifications

Though Showalter was not ready to speculate on his pitching plans in case of a rainout Monday night, it seemed likely that he would have moved Chris Tillman back into the second game of the brief series and pushed Zach Britton to the series opener against the New York Yankees on Wednesday night at Oriole Park.

There are a couple of good reasons to do that, starting with the fact that Britton just pitched nine innings for the first time in his professional career. There's also the possibility that he'll face an innings limit this season, so stretching out the time between starts would keep him in the rotation longer.

No one is saying what that innings limit will be, but the most he has pitched in a season were the 1531/3 he split between Double-A Bowie and Norfolk last season, so a good rule of thumb would be to add about 30 innings to that total.

Matusz at Frederick

Left-hander Brian Matusz, recovering from an intercostal strain, was satisfied with his rehabilitation outing for Single-A Frederick on Monday night but said he still had some things to work on.

Facing Potomac, Matusz pitched four innings, allowing one run on two hits and two walks while striking out two.

"I felt good warming up in the bullpen before the game and then when I was on the mound," he said. "It was nice to get four [innings] today; that was big for me. I needed that … to be able to get up and down and be able to think about things in between innings and kind of just gather myself. I felt like as the innings went on, I was able to relax and not be so mechanical and be a little bit loose."

Matusz said his rhythm was off at times and that his control wasn't as sharp as he would like.

"My fastball command wasn't where I wanted it today," he said. "It was off and just out of sync with my rhythm, but those are things that will come with more [innings] and the more I keep working. I'm just going to stick with this process and keep it going; that's the most important thing."

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