Hill, Freel in line to return

Hill, Freel in line to return

BALTIMORE -- Reinforcements may not be too far away. The Orioles planned Monday to send Rich Hill and Ryan Freel out on rehabilitation assignments that could hasten their return to the parent club.

Hill, who is expected back at the end of next month, will pitch for Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday. Freel, meanwhile, will play with several local affiliates and can be activated on May 6. The veteran, who suffered a head injury in Fenway Park, will play for Class A affiliates Frederick, Delmarva and Double-A Bowie.

"I've got Freel batting leadoff every game that he plays," manager Dave Trembley said. "He's playing second [base], center [field], left [field], third [base] and then coming back around. The first three games he plays it's three at-bats, six innings, then a day off. The last couple of games he plays it's four at-bats, nine innings."

Freel, who was struck in the head by an errant pickoff throw during the finale of Baltimore's first road trip, has said that there are no lingering effects from the injury. The Orioles just want the utilityman to play himself back into baseball shape before they reactivate him and reorganize their bench.

Things are a little more fluid for Hill, who missed most of Spring Training with a strained left elbow. Hill has already thrown one rehab start, but the Orioles want him to take most of the month to return to full strength. That likely means multiple starts for the southpaw at Norfolk before he gets activated.

"I know he's anxious to get here with us," Trembley said of Hill. "He's already got his apartment here in Baltimore. He's anxious to get here, but he's got to get his pitches up."

Hill is expected to throw 65-70 pitches in his next outing, and the Orioles hope to bump him all the way to 85 pitches after that. After that, by the end of May, they hope he'll be able to assume a rotation job and push Mark Hendrickson -- another offseason acquisition -- into his intended role as swingman and long reliever.

Trembley said that he's gotten reports that Hill has very good command of his curveball and improved control of his fastball, and he also said that pitching coach Rick Kranitz was impressed by a recent side session.

"It will be interesting to see how he pitches Wednesday," said Trembley. "We're going to keep him on a five-day program after that, see if we can keep it going."

Third baseman Melvin Mora is also expected to play for Norfolk over the next few days and should be able to return to the Orioles by Friday, when they open up a three-game series in Toronto.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.