Patton's progress

The Orioles will break out a different lineup tonight with Nick Markakis missing his first game this season to attend his grandmother's funeral.

The Orioles will be facing a left-hander, Houston's Dallas Keuchel, who's 2-2 with a 5.10 ERA. Steve Pearce could start in the outfield, with Danny Valencia again serving as the designated hitter.

Right-handers are batting .315 against Keuchel, compared to .283 for left-handers.

Taylor Teagarden will catch Thursday afternoon's game after being activated from the disabled list yesterday.

One struggling reliever, Pedro Strop, threw a simulated game yesterday in Houston and is headed to Sarasota. He could be activated from the disabled list over the weekend.

Another struggling reliever, Troy Patton, may be on the verge of losing that label after turning in two straight scoreless appearances.

Patton blanked the Tigers over two innings on Saturday, allowing two hits and striking out three. The previous night, he allowed one hit, walked one and struck out one in two-thirds of an inning.

We're not talking clean innings, but it's progress after he surrendered nine runs and 13 hits, with four walks, in his last 8 2/3 innings over six appearances. He's walked 13 batters in 25 1/3 innings after walking 12 in 55 2/3 innings last season.

Patton is encouraged but not completely satisfied.

Asked on Sunday whether he was feeling better about his performance, Patton replied, "Yes and no."

"I still didn't like giving up a hit to a lefty on an 0-2 count," he said. "But I felt better overall. I attacked the zone a lot more. I'd rather be giving up singles than walking guys, honestly, any day of the week, especially in my role. Walking guys is just unacceptable.

"My main focus is to throw strikes, get ahead of hitters, and I feel like I did a lot better job of that (Saturday) than I had been."

The walks continue to agitate Patton, as does the .341 average that left-handed hitters have posted against him.

"It's really puzzling," he said. "I've had trouble with lefties in Triple-A before whenever I just get lazy with my approach on them and don't mix it up enough and really just don't locate down and away fastballs because that ruins a lot of counts for me whenever I can throw a good slider and then not follow it up with a down and away fastball. I haven't been doing that as well as I can this year, so that's what I'm trying to do is fix it. Get back to basics, locate the fastball and then work off of that."

Patton said he had one extra side session in an attempt to solve the problem.

"I usually don't throw much off the mound," he said. "I did throw off the mound because I had a few extra days off, but I've been just working on it with normal throwing and doing flat-ground stuff. It's really just a timing issue. It's just a small mechanical issue that I haven't had to make an adjustment for before.

"It seems like my arm's working a lot better. Last time out, my arm was working a whole lot better, so I feel good about the progress."

Ryan Flaherty should feel good about his own progress. He's 6-for-19 since being recalled from Triple-A Norfolk, and he continues to play an outstanding second base.

Speaking of Norfolk, reliever Jon Rauch made his debut last night and tossed a scoreless sixth inning, with one walk and one strikeout. He can opt out of his contract on June 18.

Henry Urrutia leads the Eastern League with a .353 average after going 4-for-4 with two home runs. And I still don't know when the Orioles plan to call him up.

Right now, they want to keep him at Double-A Bowie while he works to improve his defense and baserunning. Norfolk would seem the likely next step, not the majors.

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