What’s next for the Orioles?

NEW YORK - Just when it appears that the Orioles’ rotation and roster are settled, at least for the short term, more rumblings can be heard from miles away.

Sort of like Sidney Ponson with an empty stomach.

We don’t know whether left-hander Zach Britton will make his next start. We don’t know whether Tommy Hunter will start on Friday, though he’s scheduled to open the three-game series against the Rays.

The entire rotation will be working on an extra days rest because of today’s open date - the first one since the All-Star break - so manager Buck Showalter could push back Hunter to Saturday and give tomorrow night’s assignment to Wei-Yin Chen. Showalter kept looking for ways to provide extra rest for Chen earlier this season, but it no longer is a priority.

Jake Arrieta starts tonight for Triple-A Norfolk, and he could take Britton’s next turn if Showalter decides to make another change. However, Arrieta gave up three runs and six hits and walked three batters in 5 1/3 innings in his last outing. He may be tapping on the door, but he isn’t kicking it down. Let’s see what he does tonight against Columbus.

Steve Johnson Throws white.jpgSteve Johnson, who hasn’t pitched since Saturday, has allowed one run in two of his last three starts. His 4-7 record won’t impress, but what about his 2.95 ERA in 85 1/3 innings, or his opponents’ .203 average?

The Orioles are waiting for Jason Hammel to come off the disabled list, hopefully by early September if not a little sooner, but their patience is being tested.

This rotation is lacking a veteran leader, someone to help mentor the younger pitchers when they struggle and lose their way. Who qualifies? Chen is the ace right now in his first season in the U.S. Can you picture him pulling aside Britton to offer a few words of wisdom?

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported last night that the Orioles talked to the Mariners about Kevin Millwood before the non-waiver deadline. Didn’t they go down that path already?

It just shows how badly they need an innings-eaters and a veteran hand.

Meanwhile, Norfolk’s Nate McLouth could choose to opt out of his contract Friday. The Orioles want to keep him in the organization, but they don’t need another left-handed hitting outfielder to go with Nick Markakis, Endy Chavez, Chris Davis and Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty, who’s played 16 games in right and seven in left.

Would the Orioles dare to replace Chavez with McLouth?

Lew Ford could be designated, but he’s here because the Orioles wanted another right-handed hitting outfielder, and they’re facing Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore and David Price this weekend.

McLouth is batting .244/.325/.461 with five doubles, two triples, 10 homers, 33 RBIs and one error in 47 games. He’s hitting .211 with a .530 OPS in his last 10 games.

He’s not kicking down the door, either.

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