Lefty reliever Kurt Birkins will make the first big league start of his career Monday, a designation made necessary by the exhausted state of Orioles pitching. Birkins, a starter for the vast majority of his Minor League career, is excited to get the opportunity against Tampa Bay.
"It's something I've always dreamed about," he said Sunday. "It's more comfortable for me being able to show up to the field knowing that I'm going to pitch and getting into my routine. I'm a creature of habit, so as long as I have a routine. I think that's when I'm at my best."
Birkins has rarely gotten a chance to put his best foot forward this season, thanks largely to a constant shuttle between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk. The southpaw is currently on his fifth stint with the Orioles, and many of his former stops have been for a few days at a time. Now that September's arrived, he knows he's finally around for good.
And not only is he around, he's one of the few fresh-armed starting candidates on the team. With Erik Bedard recently injured and Steve Trachsel traded Friday, the Orioles had a gaping hole for Monday's start. Once Baltimore had to use Brian Burres in relief in Saturday night's 10-0 loss, Birkins was more or less the only possible choice for manager Dave Trembley.
"He's pitched decent since he's been here. That's one [reason]," said Trembley, verbalizing why Birkins was his best option. "Two, he went back to Triple-A as a starter, so he's stretched out. Three, I used Burres last night and I pitched [Jon] Leicester two days in a row. And against Tampa Bay's lineup, I'd like to see a lefty go on the first day of the series."
The only complication is that Birkins pitched three innings Friday night, giving him a short turnaround to Sunday's start. The left-hander threw 43 pitches in that outing, which he said was roughly equivalent to a really long side session. Birkins said he should be fine to throw around 90 pitches Monday, and Trembley hopes he can make it through six innings.
"Two innings for him the other day was like a sideline really," Trembley said. "It keeps him right on schedule because he gets two days off. That's normal preparation between starts if you're pitching in a five-day rotation."
Birkins may have had a great seat to see Boston's Clay Buchholz throw a no-hitter in his second career start, but he knows better than to expect to replicate that kind of history-making performance.
"Don't be expecting anything like that," he said. "I just want to get out there, get some innings in and try to help the team win."
Wild Cherry: Rocky Cherry's had a difficult Baltimore debut Saturday night, but he's looking forward to putting it behind him and moving toward his next outing. Cherry, acquired with third baseman Scott Moore in exchange for Trachsel, allowed four earned runs in less than an inning of work during the Orioles' 10-0 loss.
"I didn't pitch to my ability. I think I was trying to impress," said Cherry, who was drafted and developed by the Cubs. "I kind of went out there a little tentative. I was pushing the ball and I didn't throw my pitches. It just wasn't my best."
The 28-year-old is expected to play a heavy role for Baltimore's beleaguered bullpen down the stretch. If he pitches well, he could establish himself as a frontrunner for a job out of next year's Spring Training camp. If he doesn't, he could lose momentum and watch the Orioles sign a few relievers to take his job this winter.
He's aware of that fact, which may have played into putting too much pressure on himself.
"Even though I'm new here, you want to do well here. You want to impress," he said. "You have to realize that it's not a one-time thing and I'm going to get another shot. It's what I do next time and the time after that."
This and that: The Orioles made two late lineup changes Sunday to give second baseman Brian Roberts and Corey Patterson an extra off-day. Roberts has been dealing with an earache for the last few days.
"He's had somewhat of an inner-ear infection, which has been lingering for a few days," Trembley said. "But he was able to play today [and] so was Patterson. But I slept on it last night and came in here today and changed it. [We're] just doing what's right -- those guys are worn out somewhat. I'm going to give him a day off."
There's still no update on Bedard's strained right oblique, but it's beginning to look like his season might be done.
"I don't know when he's going to pitch again. I think we would like to get him looked at by the Baltimore doctors," Trembley said. "He wants to pitch again. ... Whether he'll be able to has not been determined."
Quotable: "The best is yet to come. We're purging and flushing all the negative." -- Trembley, on his team's recent play
Coming up: The Orioles head to St. Petersburg for Monday's 7:10 p.m. ET series opener, and Birkins (1-1, 8.00 ERA) will be matched up against James Shields (10-8, 4.10 ERA).
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less