BALTIMORE -- Pedro Strop has completely changed his game in his first full season with the Orioles, and the results have been nothing short of dominant.
After three years of limited playing time and limited success with the Rangers, Strop has stopped trying to simply overpower hitters, instead using his two-seam fastball to induce as many ground balls as possible.
The setup man's 1.29 ERA is the best among Orioles pitchers. The only reliever in the Majors who has thrown as many innings as Strop's 48 2/3 and posted a better ERA is Tampa Bay's Fernando Rodney, who has an 0.71 ERA in 50 2/3 innings.
"I became a sinker pitcher," Strop said. "Trying to get a ground ball every time out there. I used to get strikeouts, and every time I was working with 30 or 25 pitches per inning, just trying to get strikeouts and trying to be perfect and this kind of stuff.
"But now I simplified pretty much everything I can, as much as I can. Just throwing my two-seamer right in there. Just trying to get ground balls as soon as possible."
More than half of Strop's pitches this season have been two-seam fastballs, a pitch he used just sparingly with the Rangers.
The sharp, sinking action of the pitch has led to a career-best ground ball rate.
"I didn't trust in it before, but now I trust in it," Strop said of his two-seamer. "Before I used to trust in velocity. I would throw 100 [mph] and then just strike them out with a slider or split-finger. This year I don't even focus on it -- velocity is good -- but I'm focused on locating my sinker where I want it. Down and away, down and in to righties, and get a ground ball as soon as possible."
Strop is striking out a career-low 6.84 batters per nine innings, but that shift has had a largely positive impact.
The right-hander had never thrown fewer than four pitches per plate appearance before this season, when his mark of 3.83 is about league average.
"When you're young, you're always hearing, listening to people talking about velocity," Strop said. "You never listen to people talking about, 'Oh, you get a ground ball on two pitches.' You know, you always hear velocity, 'He throws 100, he throws 100.'
"In your mind, that's what I was thinking: Just throw 100 and get a slider for a strikeout. But now I'm not on that anymore. I'm trying to get outs in three pitches. That's my goal."
If that means ditching the 100 mph four-seamer, then so be it. Strop isn't sure he still has that kind of gas in the tank either way.
"I don't know, especially kind of late in the season," Strop said. "But I don't even want to think about it. I just want to focus on keep getting these quick ground balls."
With O's 'pen taxed, Britton optioned for Johnson
BALTIMORE -- In the wake of Tuesday's 14-inning game, the Orioles have optioned Zach Britton to Triple-A and will recall Steve Johnson to make his first Major League start on Wednesday in place of Tommy Hunter.
As Tuesday's game wore on and the O's bullpen became thin, Hunter began to warm up in the bottom of the 14th. Although Adam Jones' walk-off single ended the game before Hunter was needed, the team elected to use Johnson for Wednesday's 7:05 p.m. ET start.
Hunter will be available out of the bullpen on Wednesday if the Orioles need a long reliever.
Johnson -- who is the son of MASN broadcaster Dave Johnson -- is 4-8 with a 2.86 ERA in 19 games for Triple-A Norfolk. In 91 1/3 innings he has allowed 66 hits and 31 walks with 86 strikeouts.
Wednesday will mark the beginning of Johnson's third stint in the Majors. He has made one appearance for the O's out of the bullpen this season, throwing two innings and allowing one run -- a homer -- and two walks.
Britton fell to 1-1 with an 8.10 ERA in five starts since making his 2012 debut on July 17 by allowing seven runs (four earned) on eight hits and two walks in five-plus innings against the Mariners on Tuesday.
"I felt like I had good stuff, and it was just a matter of battling through it," said Britton. "I tried to do the best I could with what I had, but it's got to be better than that. I understand that. I've got to get back on track and find a way to do it and not get frustrated, because that's not going to help me at all. I just need to come in, focus and get ready to go."
The Orioles may be forced into an additional roster move on Wednesday, as utility player Ryan Flaherty is suffering from acute tonsillitis and could be placed on the disabled list.
Orioles weighing options for Chavez
BALTIMORE -- The Orioles continued to weigh trade possibilities for outfielder Endy Chavez, but manager Buck Showalter said Tuesday there's a chance the veteran stays in the organization and opts to play at Triple-A Norfolk.
"We and [Chavez] are considering if things don't work out for him somewhere else, whether he or we [could see] him playing in Norfolk," said Showalter, who was careful to dance around the confidential waiver-wire process.
"Somebody from our front office was gauging our interest as a coaching staff of him. So we did, there was word on Endy today."
Chavez would have to opt to stay in the organization if he clears waivers, given his service time as an 11-year veteran. Showalter said if that is the case, Chavez would be "at worst" a September call-up for an Orioles club fighting for a playoff spot.
An offseason free-agent signing, Chavez hit just .190 with a .222 on-base percentage in 47 games and has made two separate trips to the disabled list.
Jim Thome is expected to make a decision by the end of Tuesday on how to handle the herniated disc that has landed him on the 15-day disabled list. Showalter said Thome can either stay with the team, return home or travel to Sarasota, Fla., for rehab. It looks right now as if Thome could be headed home, since he has to wait out the 30-day rest period, although it's not definite.
Also expected to have a more definitive plan by the end of Tuesday is pitcher Jason Hammel, who has been on the disabled list since July 15 and underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Hammel has been throwing off flat ground and the team was meeting Tuesday to set a schedule for getting him on the mound.
Jake Arrieta went 3 2/3 innings for Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday night, allowing five earned runs on eight hits and three walks.
Brian Matusz, who didn't make Sunday's scheduled start for Triple-A Norfolk due to hip flexor tightness, threw a bullpen on Tuesday with no problems and will start Friday at Charlotte.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. Greg Luca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.