Orioles are back in action and giving us more to think about

The Orioles are refreshed after yesterday’s break, which the bullpen needed, and ready to host the Athletics for three games and dive back into division competition with four against the Yankees.

Eight of nine series will be outside the American League East before the Yankees come to town.

It could have something or nothing to do with the 16-8 record and eight wins in the last 10 games. This is a very good team, which falls way short of a hot take. Just stating the facts.

The Orioles will be in the playoffs. The only question is whether they’re still active in November. I’m not making any plans until the second week of the month.

On paper at least, they can only get better with injured pitchers returning, Jackson Holliday eventually being Jackson Holliday, other prospects ready for promotion, and one or more trades likely at the deadline.

On the field, there are more interesting developments and questions to ponder before Corbin Burnes jogs out of the dugout tonight.

The first rotation complication is almost upon us.

The game notes stated that Albert Suárez would start Sunday afternoon against Oakland at Camden Yards, and the Athletics' notes yesterday had the same. A risky move, of course, because Suárez might actually surrender a run. Someone please save the streak.

Manager Brandon Hyde told the assembled media in Anaheim that John Means is a consideration for Sunday rather than making one more rehab start with Triple-A Norfolk. But Suárez is the guy if that doesn’t happen.

What if it does?

Súarez would pitch the first game of the Yankees series, which didn’t seem like a stellar idea about a month ago but now sounds like a solid plan. However, that’s based on the assumption that Suárez stays in the rotation. He’s earned it, right?

Of course he has.

Left-hander Cole Irvin is listed for Saturday after shutting out the Royals for 6 2/3 innings in Kansas City. Is he pitching for his rotation life against the Athletics? His finest outing with the Orioles didn’t necessarily lock down a spot.

No one in their right mind would classify Burnes, Grayson Rodriguez or Dean Kremer as vulnerable. My mind is questionable, but I wouldn’t peg the Orioles as a six-man rotation team.

Irvin would give the Orioles a third left-hander in the bullpen, but Cionel Pérez began his injury rehab assignment Wednesday with Norfolk and isn’t far from being reinstated.

The first of many pleasant problems is dropped at their feet. Just wait until Kyle Bradish is ready, followed by Tyler Wells.

Should Gunnar Henderson bat first?

Hyde, his hitting coaches and the analytics team know the damage that Henderson could do further down. In theory, he comes up with runners on base as a middle-of-the-order monster and terrorizes pitchers.

In reality, he might lead off only once in a game. Unless he also leads off the third inning, which he did Wednesday and hit his eighth home run – another left-on-left assault. And also the fifth, when he reached for a changeup and flicked it down the left field line at 87.5 mph for a double. A glorious piece of hitting. And also the eighth, when he was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game.

Don’t overthink it. Henderson can give the Orioles a fast 1-0 lead in the first inning, or he gets on base with Adley Rutschman on deck. Or the lineup turns over and he’s up with a chance to drive in a run.

Rutschman singled Wednesday to score Henderson after the double. Henderson had a two-run single in the sixth against another lefty and raced to third base on Rutschman’s single.

Give me a list of better one-two punches in the majors.

No, seriously. Please share your work.

Wednesday’s game began with Henderson ranking second in the majors with a 96.3 mph average exit velocity. The Angels’ Miguel Sanó was first at 97 mph. Henderson was first on the club with 42 hard-hit balls. He enters tonight’s series opener against the Athletics with a .309/.373/.649 line, three doubles, three triples, eight home runs, 20 RBIs, seven walks and five steals in five attempts.

Lowering him makes more sense if the Orioles aren’t scoring runs, but they led the American League yesterday with 136 and the majors with 37 homers. Cedric Mullins was a 30/30 guy in 2021, before Henderson’s arrival, but there’s nothing wrong with batting him sixth or seventh. And Henderson is hitting .324 with a 1.017 OPS versus left-handers. Mullins is 2-for-22.

Or did you have someone else in mind to supplant Henderson?

Henderson hits, hits for power and can run. He’s in a very deep lineup, one that often has Colton Cowser and Jordan Westburg in the bottom third. I wouldn’t mess with it. Why would you?

How long does Heston Kjerstad stay in the majors?

Kjerstad went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Tuesday night in Anaheim and didn’t play the following day with the Angels starting left-hander Tyler Anderson and replacing him with southpaw José Suarez. The Athletics are starting a right-hander tonight, a lefty Saturday and a righty Sunday.

The series probably gives Kjerstad one chance in the lineup and it isn’t a certainty. Ryan Mountcastle is playing again after missing one game with a sore knee and coming off the bench the next night, when he delivered a pinch-hit single. He started at first base Wednesday and is 3-for-7 with two home runs lifetime against Ross Stripling, who starts tonight.

You couldn’t pry Ryan O’Hearn out of the lineup with a crowbar when the opponent starts a right-hander. There’s no reason to sit him. He’s at first base or serving as designated hitter.

The outfield seems set with Colton Cowser, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander, especially with Austin Hays on the injured list.

Kjerstad stays with the club at least as long as Hays is hurt, and we don’t know when he’s returning. Hyde sounded optimistic in Anaheim that it wouldn’t be a long stint.

This is why the speculation existed that the Orioles would choose someone else rather than call up a prospect and send him back down. Kjerstad was on the 40-man roster, which helped, but he also earned the promotion by destroying Triple-A pitching.

If Kjerstad and Hays are on the active roster, a tough call must be made in order to create room for them. Jorge Mateo, Ramón Urías or Jackson Holliday would have to leave. There’s no other way unless someone else is injured.

No one is going to feel sorry for the Orioles, but these are the headaches that accompany a deep and talented roster. They’ll gladly take it.

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