Notes: Hernandez makes quick impact
Activated before game, catcher doubles in first '07 at-bat
BALTIMORE -- Spring Training's a distant memory, but Ramon Hernandez began his season in earnest on Thursday, when he was activated from a month-long stint on the disabled list. Baltimore's starting catcher came down with a left oblique injur at the end of Spring Training and couldn't swing a bat without pain until recently.
Hernandez played in two Minor League rehab games in the last two days and pronounced himself game-ready, but he's well aware that trying to do too much too soon could result in a return trip to the disabled list.
"That's always a point you might get it back, but that's a risk everybody takes when you're in there," he said. "Who knows? Whenever you're playing the game, you're putting your body through [where it] can get hurt. That's something that's really natural. You really cannot tell if you made it come back or not. Maybe you hurt something all different."
While Hernandez was gone, Baltimore made do with the defensively sound but light-hitting tandem of Paul Bako and Alberto Castillo. Castillo was designated for assignment to make room on the active roster for Hernandez, and the Orioles will have 10 days to pass him through waivers, trade him or reassign him to Triple-A Norfolk.
Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo said he hoped Castillo would remain in the organization, but he couldn't hide the fact that he was enthusiastic to have his primary backstop back behind the plate.
"The two guys back there did a great job backing up, but when you're missing your starting catcher, it's a little different," Perlozzo said. "And both sides, catching, throwing, and it's a big bat. He might be a slow starter, but you never know that. He gives you more balance in the lineup and makes you stronger one through nine now."
Hernandez knows that his swing may not return right away, but he didn't pretend to know how long it might take. Last year, he was one of Baltimore's primary power threats and set a franchise record for RBIs (87) by a catcher. He sent a pretty positive signal Thursday night, when he hit a gap double on the first pitch of his first at-bat of the season in the third inning. Hernandez came around to score on Melvin Mora's double.
"Some guys take two weeks. Some guys take one week. Some guys take four games," Hernandez said of his timetable to get his swing back into rhythm. "I've only played two games. We'll see what happens."
Hernandez likes to play as often as possible and has always been a tough guy to take out of the lineup, but Perlozzo said he'll make sure to watch him carefully for any possible signs of a recurring injury.
"We'll keep an eye on him," Perlozzo said. "I don't think there's any question about that -- at least initially. We'll probably give him a day game off after a night game. We'll see how he feels."
Backing up: Now, Bako will return to his intended role. The veteran will likely catch once or twice a week when Hernandez is healthy, but Perlozzo won't be afraid to play him in any circumstance. Bako batted just .238 with a home run during three weeks as the starter, but his contributions went way beyond his batting average.
"He did very well. I think our pitchers like throwing to him. He calls a good game [and] he can throw," Perlozzo said. "I know his average wasn't as good as you'd like, but at the same time, I thought he got us some big hits and helped to contribute to some wins for us early on. ... He's a good addition to our club."
Perlozzo shared a similar sentiment regarding Castillo, who was acquired just days before the end of Spring Training. If Castillo clears waivers and accepts an assignment to Norfolk, he'll serve as an insurance policy.
"I'd like to see us keep him. He did a good job for us, too," Perlozzo said of the 10-year veteran. "[He's a] great energy guy for us on our team and he handled the pitchers well."
Fallout: Perlozzo said he spoke to veteran relievers Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford about Wednesday night's late meltdown and came away confident that they took it in stride. Walker and Bradford came into a tough spot in the seventh inning and couldn't hold a 1-1 tie in a game the Orioles eventually lost by five runs.
"I don't think there's any problem," Perlozzo said. "These guys are smart and know what they're doing. You can't do anything about the ball that was hit. The only thing that upset Chad was he didn't have his command.
"He said, 'That's not me out there. I can put up with getting hit around, but I don't walk people like that.' Those are good guys. They'll bounce back and do well."
Quotable: "I'm not going to take anything away from those guys, but when you get your No. 1 guy back, it should be a little different." -- Perlozzo, on how Hernandez will impact the pitching staff
Coming up: Baltimore will start a six-game road trip Friday with a 7:05 p.m. ET series opener at Cleveland's Jacobs Field. Steve Trachsel will start for the Orioles, and the Indians will counter with Jake Westbrook.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.