BALTIMORE -- In an effort to upgrade their bullpen, the Orioles swapped lefties, recalling Brian Matusz from Triple-A Norfolk and designating J.C. Romero for assignment.
Matusz, who went 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA in 16 Major League starts, was moved to a relief role after making six starts for Norfolk.
Matusz's first stint as a reliever at the Major League level got off to a solid start on Friday night, entering a 6-2 game in the seventh and striking out Colby Rasmus to strand runners at second and third, as the Orioles went on to a 6-4 victory.
With Troy Patton on the 15-day disabled list (ankle sprain) and not progressing as quickly as hoped -- coupled with Romero's struggles -- the Orioles' hope Matusz can fill the void.
"I'm confident in his abilities," manager Buck Showalter said of Matusz, who went 2-1 with a 4.21 ERA in 10 games, including four relief outings, for Norfolk. "I don't know if it's going to play up here. We'll see. Only one way to find out. They don't have a Four-A League. It's a need we obviously have, and Brian is our best option at this point."
Why Matusz? Over his career, the 25-year-old has held left-handed hitters to a .223/.281/.384 line -- with 23 walks against 103 strikeouts. In contrast, right-handed hitters have a .309/.373/.506 line with 116 walks and 170 strikeouts.
"Everything's happened so fast, making the transition from starter to reliever," said Matusz, who made his first relief outing on Aug. 15. "I'm excited to be here and contribute any way I can and I'm looking forward to getting going."
Matusz said the biggest adjustment has been learning to get ready to go every day -- as opposed to every five days -- and while there are some adjustments, the bottom line is still the same: getting hitters out.
"I think he's still got a chance to be a real good starting pitcher," Showalter said. "But where we are as a club, if you look at his numbers and splits over his career, it's something we've been thinking about if the need ever arose. And it has."
Romero posted a 6.75 ERA in four innings over five appearances with the Orioles. The 36-year-old said he planned on going to back to his Alabama home to contemplate his future.
"From the first day I came here, I gave myself eight innings," said Romero, who was acquired in a trade with Cleveland. "I knew from the get-go that if in eight innings I didn't do my job, something was going to happen. But when you're in a pennant race, sometimes you have less room for mistake and that's what happened. Four innings, that's all she wrote. I know I wasn't as sharp as I'd like to be.
"Whenever the [incoming] storm goes by I will still [do] what God has in store for me, but right now I wish these guys the best of luck. This organization treated me with a lot of respect in the short time I was here and I wish them the best and I'm sorry I couldn't do more."
Orioles activate Flaherty, send Hunter to Double-A
BALTIMORE -- The Orioles activated infielder Ryan Flaherty from the 15-day disabled list prior to Friday's game and optioned right-handed starter Tommy Hunter to Double-A Bowie to clear a spot on the roster.
Flaherty, out with a tonsil infection, started at second base against Toronto on Friday after a nine-game rehab assignment for Triple-A Norfolk in which he hit .289/.341/.526, with a six-game hitting streak.
Flaherty, the Orioles Rule 5 Draft pick this past winter, played the corner infield and outfield spots, as well as second base while with Norfolk.
"I started a little bit slow down there for the first three or four games," Flaherty said. "After that, I got it going. I just want to try to take that back here and try to help this team win."
Hunter took the loss Wednesday night, giving up eight runs in three innings to Texas and will go to Bowie instead of Triple-A Norfolk because the schedule is easier to maneuver. Both clubs end their season on Sept. 3.
"From the second half on, I've had two not-so-good outings," said Hunter, who is 4-8 with a 5.95 ERA in 23 games (20 starts) over four stints with the Orioles. "I've had seven starts. I've found it a little bit. I've given up home runs, but look at the games: three runs, two runs. I've thrown the ball. I'm not scared to give up home runs. I'm not scared of anyone, so I'm going to keep attacking and keep on playing the game. I just have to change some stuff."
"They're hitting fastballs," Hunter said. "I've talked to a couple of people about it. It's just mixing up, changing speeds, I'm not doing it. [My agent] said, 'You need to step off the accelerator sometimes.' That's basically what he said. He said, 'Use this time down there. Re-invent yourself.' And I don't want to re-invent myself. I just want to start throwing more consistently offspeed strikes."
Johnson gets call to start Saturday vs. Blue Jays
BALTIMORE -- As expected, the Orioles will tab rookie Steve Johnson to make Saturday's start against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Johnson last pitched in relief on Wednesday night, tossing an inning in the Orioles' loss in Texas, allowing a run on two hits. The 24-year-old right-hander is 1-0 with a 3.24 ERA in four games, including a victory in the first start of his Major League career on Aug. 8.
"We felt all along that's what we hoped to do," manager Buck Showalter said of giving Johnson another start. "When we made the evaluation with [Wei-Yin] Chen and Miguel [Gonzalez], we need to give them a little extra time. As long as we didn't have some emergency where Steve had to pitch really extended there in Texas, it actually worked out perfect. The inning he threw, couldn't have hoped for a better situation for him to get some work in.
"As well as he pitched last time [he started], I didn't want him to get too far away from it. Hopefully, he can continue the good contribution he made to us last time."
Johnson tossed six innings in his only other career start, holding Seattle to two runs on five hits and a pair of walks. He also struck out nine.
With Chen and Gonzalez each getting an extra two days of rest, starting Monday and Tuesday respectively, the Orioles' rotation is undecided for Wednesday and Thursday.
"It's going to be that way," Showalter said of filling out the rotation as they go along. "We've got different options that can fall on different days. I got a sneaking suspicion the way we will go, but a lot of it is going to be determined over the next five days."
Jason Hammel (right knee surgery) threw a 40-pitch, two-inning simulated game at Camden Yards on Friday afternoon and he said physically he felt good. Hammel's mechanics were a bit rusty, which is to be expected, and he will likely pitch another simulated game to build his pitch count back up before being sent out on a rehab start.
Wilson Betemit (right wrist injury) is expected to start swinging a bat on Monday at the team's spring facility in Sarasota, Fla. and could go out on a rehab assignment on Tuesday or Wednesday. Jim Thome (herniated disk in neck) and Troy Patton (right ankle sprain) aren't close to a return, according to Showalter.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy will sign autographs at the AT&T Store in Hanover on Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon. Fans can meet Hardy and get a sneak peek at the J.J. Hardy Fans Choice Bobblehead, presented by AT&T, that will be given to the first 20,000 fans 15-and-over on Sept. 30.
Right-hander Kevin Gausman, the Orioles' top pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, made his second start since being promoted to High-A Frederick and allowed two runs over three innings on Friday night. Gausman struck out three and surrendered five hits without walking a batter.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.