Hammel nearing return

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Orioles are encouraged by Jason Hammel's simulated game today in Sarosota, and he remains a candidate to start this weekend in the playoffs.

Hammel threw 73 pitches in five innings at Ed Smith Stadium. He's scheduled to throw a bullpen session and could start Saturday, at the earliest, because manager Buck Showalter won't use him on fewer than four days rest.

"We'll see how he feels tomorrow when he comes in," Showalter said. "If he comes through that tomorrow, no real limitations on his next step.

"It went real well. Rick (Adair) isn't easily impressed, but he was impressed with (Hammel's) stuff. His arm strength and everything. That was as good as was to be expected. It was smoking, too. He had a good sweat going. Got a little tired at the end, but it's been a while."

Showalter offered the same update on Nick Markakis that the right fielder gave reporters this afternoon. Markakis won't get the pins taken out of his left thumb until next week.

"The (CC) Sabathia fastball did a lot of damage," Showalter said. "Pretty major. Want to make sure this heals long-term. It's progressing good, everything's fine, but the doctor wanted to wait another week to take the pins out.

"He's not behind or ahead. He's right on schedule. So far, so good.

"From the get-go, Richie (Bancells) and the doctors have been very forthright about tempering some of his... We know what's happening three weeks from now in baseball, OK? We'll keep plugging, trying to get to that goal. Everybody would love that, individually for Nick and for the organization. But a lot of bridges to cross, starting tonight."

Wilson Betemit had the splint removed from his right wrist and is five-to-seven days from starting a hitting progression.

"That was encouraging today," Showalter said. "That's probably a little better than we thought we were going to hear."

Steve Johnson is day-to-day after the MRI on his left knee today came back clean.

"It has nothing to do with the (foot) contusion any more," Showalter said. "He's just got a little strain in there. That was good. We dodged a bullet there."

LJ Hoes is in Baltimore and will report to instructional league in the next day or two.

The rotation for this series hasn't changed. Miguel Gonzalez is still slated to pitch Tuesday, and Wednesday is TBA. Showalter said he has four options.

Chris Tillman would be working on normal rest, but he could be pushed back if Wednesday isn't a must-win for the Orioles.

Since Aug. 1, the Orioles have the best winning percentage in baseball at .673 (37-18), ahead of the Giants (.661, 37-19).

The Orioles will finish. 500 or better against every American League East team for the first time since 1970.

Steve Pearce is wearing No. 28.

For the Rays:
Desmond Jennings LF
B.J. Upton CF
Ben Zobrist SS
Evan Longoria 3B
Jeff Keppinger 1B
Ben Francisco DH
Sam Fuld RF
Ryan Roberts 2B
Chris Gimenez C

Alex Cobb RHP

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