As Orioles go for division title, Hammel is the wild card

The Orioles have been keeping Elias busy. Here's the latest:

The 18 consecutive runs scored on home runs in the last two games were the most since the Orioles moved to Baltimore in 1954.

Manager Buck Showalter doesn't reveal much about his rotation, which leaves the rest of us trying to guess how it's lined up for the postseason.

The TBAs tend to complicate the process.

Here's what I learned yesterday: Joe Saunders is starting on Sunday in the final home game of the regular season. Wei-Yin Chen is starting the first game against the Rays on Monday at Tropicana Field.

Chris Tillman, coming off his fourth quality start in his last five outings, is lined up to pitch the final regular-season game on Wednesday. But what if the Orioles have already clinched a playoff berth? Would Showalter hold him back until Friday if they have a wild card game?

Otherwise, Saunders could pitch Friday on regular rest.

Given the choice - and no offense to Saunders - Tillman would be the preference based on how he's dealing. And this guy is really dealing.

Miguel Gonzalez pitched Wednesday and could take the mound again on Tuesday or Wednesday at The Trop. Or would Showalter really extend Gonzalez's rest and wait until Friday?

Ah, the choices.

The rotation could get a real boost from Jason Hammel, who hasn't pitched since leaving his Sept. 11 start against the Rays after 3 2/3 innings with pain shooting through his right knee. He's the wild card for a team that's focused on winning the American League East - and continues to trail the Yankees by one game.

Hammel went three "innings" yesterday in his bullpen simulated game. Showalter wants to stretch out Hammel to between four and six innings in another simulated game next week in the instructional league. Showalter said it would happen Monday or Tuesday. I'd think the earlier, the better, if the Orioles want to keep Hammel as an option for Friday.

"We'll see how he is tomorrow," Showalter said after last night's 9-1 victory over the Red Sox, who look like a team that's counting down the minutes until its season is over.

hammel throwing black nats 2 sidebar .jpg"He threw three innings up and down in the bullpen, 47 pitches I believe it was. We're checking on pitching a simulated game in instructional. We're not going to do that in Tampa. It would be better in that environment in Sarasota, where they can get the players and be more realistic about it.

"We'll have a better feel tomorrow and see how he feels after coming in and having that strain at that level today. Tentatively, we're thinking Monday or Tuesday. I believe they're thinking about the sim game where we can control the environment of that game, which is important."

Hammel won't pitch again in the regular season, which is down to five games, but he could get back into the playoff rotation.

"I think we'll have a better idea after Monday or Tuesday," Showalter said last night. "If he comes through that with what we're probably going to do, expose him to, then it's more of a reality. Rick (Adair) and I are talking about, the equivalent of three (innings) today, so you'll probably see between four and six. He's not so far removed from arm strength and everything, so it shouldn't be an issue."

Just how many starters would Showalter need for the postseason? I know it partly depends on whether the Orioles win the division or have a one-game wild card playoff. Hammel could join Tillman, Chen and Gonzalez, but where does that leave Saunders? And hey, Steve Johnson will try to improve to 5-0 tonight.

What would the bullpen look like? Showalter would have to weed out a few guys, though he could make changes after each round if the Orioles kept advancing.

Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop, Luis Ayala, Darren O'Day, Troy Patton and Brian Matusz figure to be in there. Who else? Starters who don't fit into the rotation? What would happen to guys like Tommy Hunter, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton?

As Showalter says, we'll see.

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