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The Orioles begin the second half of their season with the first of a four-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays at Sahlen Field in Buffalo on Friday night.
They’ll begin the second half in fourth place in the American League East, 1 ½ games behind the Blue Jays. Toronto, which is playing in Buffalo this year because of Covid-19 concerns, is eighth among the AL playoff teams.
The Orioles are 14-16 and, according to BaseballReference.com, have a 17.7 percent chance of making the expanded postseason field. The first two teams in each of the three divisions, plus two wild-card teams, make the field. FanGraphs estimated their postseason chances at 10.2 percent.
The Orioles elected not to play Thursday against Tampa Bay. A statement they issued read, in part: “Orioles players have decided to not play tonight’s game against the Rays as they join athletes around the country in expressing solidarity with victims of social injustice and systemic racism.”
Because of Thursday night’s postponement, the Orioles must play 30 games in 31 days.
“It’s definitely going to be a difficult task,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said during a video conference call on Friday. “Keeping guys healthy is going to be a big part. The 28-man roster does help with that.”
Thursday’s game will be made up as part of a doubleheader on September 17. The Orioles will be the home team in the first game. The Rays are the home team in the second game. Both games are seven innings, and the first pitch is at 5:05 p.m.
The Orioles already had a doubleheader scheduled against the New York Yankees on September 4, and have three open dates — September 3, 7 and 21.
“It’s never easy playing 30 in 31,” Hyde said. “I’m going to have to really make sure guys get rest days and be smart about playing time and still try to win.”
If the Orioles are to overtake Toronto, they’ll have their opportunities. Besides these games, they finish the season with three more games in Buffalo against the Blue Jays on September 25-27.
The Orioles are on a franchise record 18-game losing streak against the Yankees, and they have eight games remaining with them and three at Boston on September 22-24.
Fourteen of the final 30 games are at home, and there are seven interleague games — four with the New York Mets, two at home, and two at Citi Field and three with Atlanta at Oriole Park, September 14-16.
Wednesday’s game against the Mets will now begin at 4:05 p.m.
Welcome to Buffalo: It’s Hyde’s first visit to Buffalo, the 2020 home of the Blue Jays.
Built in 1988 in an unsuccessful attempt to win an expansion franchise, Sahlen Field, home of Toronto’s Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, was originally Pilot Field and is the largest ballpark in the minor leagues, seating about 20,000.
“It’s a nice ballpark,” Hyde said. “They’ve done a nice job in here. We have a makeshift clubhouse. There’s a lot of partitions, but there’s a lot of space. The coaches’ office is nice. The training room is spacious.
“It’s a makeshift weight room, an outdoor Venice Beach-style weight room right outside the clubhouse, and the ballpark looks nice. It looks like it’s a good place to hit. I walked the grounds, took a little jog on the field earlier today, and the field’s in great shape. It looks like they’ve done a good job here.”
It’s the first time the Orioles have played a regular season game in a non-major league ballpark.
Many of the Orioles are familiar with the stadium because they played there on International League visits with Triple-A Norfolk.
Valdez on hand: On Thursday, the Orioles selected the contract of 35-year-old right-hander César Valdez, who had been on the taxi squad.
The Orioles signed Valdez, who first pitched in the majors in 2010 in Arizona and then in 2017 with Oakland and Toronto, as a minor league free agent.
Valdez did not receive an invitation to major league spring training, but he impressed as a fill-in reliever during Grapefruit League games and received an early invitation to summer camp.
“It was a different look with a guy who can pitch multiple innings for us,” Hyde said.
John Means, who starts on Friday night, has yet to complete five innings, and Thomas Eshelman, who could start in one of the other games this series, is considered a five-inning starter. Valdez joins Jorge López as a long man.
His major league numbers aren’t impressive: 2-3 record with a 7.64 ERA in 20 games, but the Orioles liked what Valdez showed in the Mexican League last year. He was 15-2 with a 2.26 ERA, striking out 162 while walking only 21 in 188 1/3 innings.
“The story is fantastic,” Hyde said. “He’s worked super hard to get back to the big leagues. He has a lot of minor league experiences that are interesting as well.”
One of those is an 11-game stint at Buffalo in 2017 when he was with Toronto.
“He’s a different style of pitcher,” Hyde said. “He throws from different arm angles with all different pitches, and I just like the look that he gives, and it’s not like anybody else we have in our bullpen or on our club. I’m looking forward to watching him pitch, whenever that is.”
Hunter Harvey update: Relief pitcher Junter Harvey is traveling with the Orioles, and he’s nearly ready to pitch.
“There’s a really good chance you’ll see toward the end of the series,” Hyde said.
Harvey has yet to pitch this season because of a right forearm strain.
Shortstop José Iglesias, who was activated from the 10-day injured list on Thursday, is in the lineup as the Orioles’ designated hitter.
Catcher Pedro Severino, who hasn’t played since Sunday because of a right hip flexor injury, returns as well.
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