Pregame notes from Aberdeen where Jason Hammel makes rehab start tonight

ABERDEEN, Md. - Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel is pitching in the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League tonight. He'll make a major league rehab start at Aberdeen, his second in the minors on his way back to the Orioles.

Last Thursday, Hammel was pain-free and pitched 2 2/3 shutout innings on three hits at Double-A Bowie. He threw 47 pitches.

Hammel last pitched for the Orioles on July 28 against Boston and has been on the disabled list since with a right flexor mass strain.

Meanwhile, the IronBirds have two regular season games left before the playoffs. Aberdeen beat Lowell at Ripken Stadium last night to clinch the division championship and reach the playoffs for the first time in the team's 12-year history.

IronBirds manager Matt Merullo has set his pitching rotation for the best-of-three semifinals playoff series that will begin in Aberdeen with Game 1 Friday night against the winner of the Stedler Division, currently led by Tri-City, which holds a 1 1/2 game edge with two to play.

Sebastian Vader (7-3, 2.43 ERA) will start the first game with O's top pick Hunter Harvey (0-1, 2.25 ERA) pitching Game 2 Saturday and Steve Brault (1-2, 2.09 ERA) pitching Game 3, if necessary, on Sunday.

The IronBirds overcame an 0-5 start where they were outscored 28-9. It is ending much better.

Aberdeen has won three in a row, seven of 10 and is 18-11 over its last 29 games to surge into first place and into the playoffs.

Merullo said he has a group of hard-working, good character players that have been a pleasure to manage.

"It is really about 25 or 30 guys pulling in the same direction," Merullo said. "It sounds like a cliche, but when guys buy into an approach, it is neat what can happen.

"We've played a lot of nail-biters this year and we've become a team that isn't just happy to win, but that expects to win. We've played well against some of the best teams in this league."

The IronBirds added high school catcher Chance Sisco, the O's second-round draft pick, to the roster today and he will bat third as the designated hitter tonight.

Now Aberdeen has the O's top three picks from the June draft in Harvey, Josh Hart and Sisco.

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