TORONTO — The Orioles placed right-hander Pedro Strop on the 15-day disabled list before Saturday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays with a lower back strain and recalled right-hander Steve Johnson from Triple-A Norfolk.
Strop, who is 0-2 with a 6.11 ERA in 17 2/3 innings this season, has struggled to regain the form that made him a reliable setup man for the Orioles for the majority of last season. He allowed five runs over his past five relief appearances and walked five with two strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings during that span.
“I was just thinking about myself and my career and what is the best for me at this time,” Strop said after Saturday’s game. “I finally got to the point where I thought, ‘OK, this has got to be fixed before it gets worse and instead of being out 15 days, I’m out for two months.’ So I prefer to get it fixed now. That was my thought.”
Strop said his back has bothered him for at least a couple weeks, but he wouldn’t blame the injury for his recent rocky outings.
“I don’t want to say that,” Strop said when asked if the injury has something to do with his struggles. “But sometimes you have something going on and your body, something there is not right. I was worried and thinking about it, but I don’t want to say that my performance was because of that.”
Strop allowed a grand slam to Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion in the Orioles’ 12-6 loss to Toronto on Thursday in his last outing. He also allowed two runs in two-thirds of an inning in his previous appearance, suffering the loss in a 6-4 defeat in 10 innings to the New York Yankees on Monday.
The move is retroactive to Friday, so Strop can return as early as June 8. The move allows the Orioles to send Strop to the minor leagues for a rehab assignment. They wouldn’t have been able to send him down if he was healthy because Strop is out of minor league options.
“It just never seemed to resolve completely,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Strop’s injury. “I think we’re just trying to completely take care of it. Hopefully it will be to the point where he can start throwing some before too long. It might be good for him in the long run.”
Johnson arrived in Toronto this morning after taking a 6 a.m. flight from Philadelphia. Norfolk was playing an hour away from there, in Allentown, Pa., so Johnson left around 2:45 a.m. to head to the airport.
Johnson pitched 2 2/3 innings Saturday, allowing two runs and three hits, but he struck out five of the 12 batters he faced.
Work paying off for Machado
The dazzling defensive plays that third baseman Manny Machado has made on the unpredictable Rogers Centre artificial turf this week are difficult to miss, but what few people see is the work Machado does before games to prepare for playing at different ballparks.
Before the Orioles’ first game in Toronto, Machado took extra grounders at third base to get used to the bounces off the turf. He traditionally spends at least 15 minutes before each game -- most players take about 10 minutes on grounders before games -- taking different types of ground balls to familiarize himself with a new field.
“He’s a talented dude,” said Orioles infield coach Bobby Dickerson, who worked with Machado closely last season to prepare him for his transition from shortstop to third base. “He’s just a naturally good infielder. The pregame work definitely prepares him for what the field is doing and how balls look. He won’t be surprised during the game. When you come to a new field, you want to change your depths and look at the balls. He does that without having to cattle prod him.”
At the Rogers Centre, Machado has learned that balls that would normally roll to the cut of the infield grass at other ballparks give a high unsteady bounce off the turf, so he needs to stay back more. He has fielded balls with different spins, so he won’t be surprised on a bad hop.
“A lot of factors come into it,” Machado said. “Once you step onto that field, you have to know every aspect to it. That first day you’re out there for [batting practice], you just get used to it and try to catch as many grounders that first day as you can.
“You just let it happen,” Machado said. “Like Bobby D. says, you’ve got to catch the ball first and then you make the out. That’s what I’ve been doing, catching it first, securing the ball first and then after that, you can just throw it wherever you need to do it to get the out.”
Hardy getting in a groove
Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, whose batting average had dropped to .188 on May 2, has hit safely in 18 of 20 games since then, raising his average to .240.
After going 2-for-4 with a two-run single in the first inning Saturday, Hardy has five RBIs in his past two games.
“Doing better,” Hardy said. “I’m definitely not paying attention to all those numbers and stuff like that, but I definitely feel a little bit more comfortable, and it’s showing a little bit.”
Hardy’s two-run single gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead in the first inning. On Friday, he hit a three-run homer in the first inning that gave the team a 3-0 lead.
Around the horn
Machado’s streak of five straight road games with three or more hits was snapped on Saturday. He was 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and a run scored. ... Nick Markakis extended his season-high hitting streak to 10 games. ... With his 17th double of the season in Saturday’s win, 33 of Chris Davis’ 57 hits this season have been for extra bases. ... After committing two errors Saturday, the Orioles have now made two errors in two of the first three games in Toronto after entering the series with two two-error games all season.