Notes: Payton activated off DL
Left fielder will likely start Saturday against Blue Jays
BALTIMORE -- So that's what this team was supposed to look like. The Orioles got a gift from the disabled list Friday, when left fielder Jay Payton returned from a left hamstring ailment. Payton didn't get in the starting lineup, but he brought the Orioles a bit closer to having an intact roster for the first time since Spring Training ended.
Baltimore is still awaiting the healthy return of catcher Ramon Hernandez and right-handed starter Jaret Wright, but Payton's presence should push the rest of the outfield into proper perspective. Starting Saturday, Jay Gibbons will likely move back to the designated hitter slot, ceding left field to the better defensive player.
In time, Payton will help the Orioles keep center fielder Corey Patterson and right fielder Nick Markakis fresh. In fact, Payton is expected to slide over to center against tough southpaws to give Patterson an occasional breather. At any rate, the O's are glad to have him back, even if it means shuffling things around in the short term.
"We've been waiting for him for a while. It's good to have him back," said Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo. "We're assuming he's going to get back in the starting lineup at some point. There's no need to rush him right in there today. ... We'll make sure he's good and healthy, but if we need him in there today, he's going to be in there."
"I'll get in there from time to time, and my thing when I get out there is to show him he wants me out there [more]," added Payton. "I'm not going to be worrying about my playing time right now. I want to be here and help the team win games. Hopefully, the rust won't be on me and I'll be playing well [and] getting out there to get my at-bats."
Payton said he didn't expect the layoff to have an adverse effect on his conditioning. The veteran said that his injury was short-term enough that it didn't erase all the gains he made in the early days of Spring Training.
"I've been out for a little while, but I was able to do all the baseball things," he said. "I've still been able to hit, throw and do everything. It's just getting back to where I can run again. I don't feel like it's going to kill me, like when you miss three months or something and can't really do anything. It's just a matter of getting my timing back."
Payton missed the final give games of the Grapefruit League schedule and wasn't able to play until a recent two-game rehab assignment for Triple-A Norfolk. He batted .250 (2-for-8) with three runs scored in that brief stint and said it felt good to get back on the field. Before the injury, he batted .354 (17-for-48) in 17 Spring Training games.
"It's still a little sore, but it's just common soreness from getting back on my feet every day and being back on the field every day," he said of his current condition. "I was feeling good at the end of spring before I got hurt, so it was very disappointing not to be able to start the season on time. I'm happy to be back here now.
"These guys have been playing good baseball. I just hope I can contribute and help us keep winning."
Making moves: The Orioles optioned outfielder Jon Knott back to Triple-A Norfolk on Friday to make room for Payton, but Perlozzo said the outfielder made a good impression in his brief stay with the team.
"The guy took advantage of an opportunity when he came up here, and he helped us win a game," he said of Knott. "You look forward to seeing kids come up like that and produce for you. I think he has a good feeling about it. He can take it back down there, work hard and if we need him, we'll get him back."
Perlozzo also said that Hernandez and Wright may be back with the team by the end of next week. Hernandez took batting practice Friday and may be able to return by the end of the weekend, but he may need a rehab assignment. Wright, on the other hand, seems like a good bet to return to start on April 29.
Wright said that he plans on throwing off the mound for the first time Saturday, and Perlozzo will follow the results of that session carefully before he makes any further declarations regarding his rotation. This much is clear: Wright has experienced shoulder discomfort before, and the Orioles want to make sure it's gone when he comes back.
"He went through his side session the other day, and I think he had no ill effects," he said. "We'll just keep moving along with him and hopefully target him for the 29th."
Pitching plans: Wright's rotation slot will come up one more time before he's eligible to come off the disabled list, and Perlozzo is unsure who he'll pitch in that spot. Long relievers Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Burres appear to be the most logical candidates, and Perlozzo confirmed that in the hours before Friday's game.
"I don't think theres a favorite. We have to wait to see how we get through the next two days," he said. "I'm not here to play games with you. It's probably going to be Guthrie or Burres. I'd assume something like that, depending on who we've used and maybe how we feel that guy would do against Oakland. We'll see."
Tribute: The Orioles called for a moment of silence before Friday's game in honor of the 32 victims of the Virginia Tech shooting incident. Baltimore's players wore Virginia Tech wristbands in tribute, and the team announced an initiative that will last the rest of the season.
On Friday nights at Camden Yards -- Student Night -- anybody with a Virginia Tech ID card will be admitted for free.
Quotable: "For me, it's a little different because it's a new team and a new organization that I'm with. In that respect, it might feel a little like an Opening Day for me. But it's baseball, and I've been doing it for a long time now. Same thing, different place." -- Payton, on the emotions surrounding his belated season debut
Coming up: The Orioles and Blue Jays will meet again Saturday night at 7:05 ET, and Adam Loewen will be matched against former Oriole Josh Towers. Loewen was erratic but took a no-decision in his last outing.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.