Taking another left turn (updated)

Since I brought up left-handed relief in this morning’s entry, I wanted to drop a few names from Triple-A Norfolk, which is playing a doubleheader today against Louisville.

Mike Ballard is starting Game 1, and the Orioles were prepared to purchase his contract on April 23 if Chris Tillman’s sore groin had led to a stint on the disabled list. Ballard is 1-2 with a 4.74 ERA in four starts for the Tides, allowing 22 hits and walking 10 in 19 innings.

Chris George impressed manager Buck Showalter in spring training, and he’s turned in two fantastic relief appearances for Norfolk this season.

George held Gwinnett to one hit over 5 1/3 scoreless innings on April 21, and he rationed Louisville to one run and two hits in 6 1/3 innings on Sunday. But he also allowed six runs and 10 hits over five innings against Indianapolis on April 26. Overall, he’s carrying a 4.98 ERA and has surrendered 22 hits (including three home runs) and walked seven in 21 2/3 innings.

Mark Hendrickson is still in the organization, and he’s rebounded nicely after a miserable start to the 2011 season. He’s 0-2 with a 5.00 ERA, but he’s allowed only one run in his last three appearances covering 10 innings.

Hendrickson, who re-signed with the Orioles so he could pitch near his York, Pa. home after failing to land a major league contract, has surrendered 18 hits (including three home runs) in 18 innings. Left-handers are batting .350 against him, with one run and seven hits allowed in 4 1/3 innings. Right-handers are batting .224 in 13 2/3 innings.

Doesn’t exactly scream out “left-handed specialist.” He’s more of a long- and middle-relief candidate.

In the majors, left-handers are hitting .267 lifetime against Hendrickson, while right-handers are hitting .299.

Hendrickson posted a 5.26 ERA with the Orioles last season, allowing 97 hits in 75 1/3 innings. Opponents batted .313 against him.

For now, the Orioles are sticking with Michael Gonzalez and Clay Rapada as the left-handed side of their bullpen. Gonzalez isn’t going anywhere unless he’s dealt at the non-waiver trade deadline, and he’s coming off a dominant performance against the White Sox, when he retired all six batters he faced and struck out four. Rapada is on much shakier ground, but there isn’t an obvious replacement for him if the Orioles want to keep two southpaws.

Update: The Tides are stockpiled with left-handers, so I should mention Alberto Castillo, who’s got a 2.77 ERA in seven games, with nine hits, two walks and eight strikeouts in 13 innings. He had a 10.13 ERA in 14 games with the Orioles last season and didn’t get invited to spring training. Troy Patton has a 3.27 ERA in four games, with seven hits, two walks and 10 strikeouts in 11 innings. He’s coming back from a shoulder injury and the Orioles planned on reinserting him into Norfolk’s rotation.

Josh Bell hit his fifth home run today in Game 1. Ballard shut out Louisville on four hits over seven innings.

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