ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Orioles activated right-hander Pedro Strop off the disabled list before Saturday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays, but how Strop will be used in the club's constantly morphing bullpen remains to be seen.
Strop allowed multiple runs in his last two outings and owned a 6.11 ERA before going on the DL with a strained lower back. Control has been a struggle for him throughout the season — he has 14 walks and 17 strikeouts over 17 2/3 innings.
In Strop's absence, right-hander Tommy Hunter has received an expanded late-inning role.
"He's physically ready to go," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We'll let the game dictate it and the needs of our bullpen physically. But I'm hoping there was a byproduct of him having the injury in that it gave him a fresh start, something he didn't get with the [World Baseball Classic]."
Strop hasn't been able to recapture the form of last season, when he emerged as the Orioles' set-up man before struggling toward the end of the season. Throughout a 13-day stretch in March, Strop threw 6 2/3 critical innings and won three games during the Dominican Republic's run to the WBC title.
Strop has said that the back injury began to affect his delivery and forced him to work on his mechanics during his DL stint. He even made throws from the shortstop position, an idea of pitching coach Rick Adair to practice repeating a natural throwing motion.
Betemit eyeing post-break return
Designated hitter Wilson Betemit's recovery from a Grade 2/3 PCL tear in his right knee has been slowed in order for him to build strength in his right quad muscle, but Betemit said he hopes to return shortly after the All-Star break.
Betemit, who is rehabbing the injury in Sarasota, Fla., and visited the Orioles clubhouse in St. Petersburg on Saturday, said he's been doing sprints, taking batting practice and hitting in the cages. He expects to begin some light fielding drills next week.
"I was scared last week when I started hitting and I was first swinging," Betemit said. "I didn't know how I would do. Then day after day I felt much better and now I'm hitting every day."
Betemit, who was injured running from first to second on a routine play during the last week of spring training, said resuming running was a mental obstacle he had to overcome.
"I see a lot difference," Betemit said. "It's a lot better. The first couple times I was a little scared but now I'm doing much better and better. … When I first started stretching my legs, it was really hard. Right now I'm used to it. I know it was going to happen, but I've felt really better than the past couple of months."
The Orioles have missed Betemit's bat, especially from the left side. His .302 batting average against right-handed pitching last season led the team.
"It would be nice to get him back and fill the hole that we haven't consistently been able to fill," Showalter said. "As soon as the strength in his quad comes back, he should move pretty quickly. I know where I've got my hopes set on him, but he's actually a little behind Brian (Roberts) right now."
While Betemit said it's been difficult being away from the team, he said he understands the Orioles' caution with him.
"It's hard regardless," he said. "When I'm in the house, the first thing I'm thinking is how I want to be playing, but I'm hurt right now and I can't play. That happens in the game. … I want to play, but if they want me to move slowly and it's better for me, I don't want to hurry then have to come back again."
Chen continues throwing
Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, also on the DL with a left oblique strain, was also with the team at Tropicana Field on Saturday and continues the throwing progression he began this week.
Chen threw from 120 feet for the first time on Saturday. There's still no timetable on when Chen can throw off a mound, but just getting back to throwing is a huge step, Chen said.
Chen began a throwing progression Monday after being unable to tough a ball for three weeks.
"It was really difficult for me, especially because I play catch every day and the three-week period was really long for me," Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. "I was counting every second every day until I could get back and throwing. I'm extremely happy. That was a big step for me. When they told me I could pick up a ball, it felt so happy. Now I'm just trying to do my job and try to get back."
Chen, who was the team's most durable starter last season, said he's now pain free with the exception of some normal stiffness from having not thrown for three weeks.
Around the horn