WASHINGTON -- With a two-run shot in the fourth inning of the Orioles' 8-2, 11-inning win against the Nationals on Monday, O's All-Star outfielder Nelson Cruz took the Major League lead with 28 home runs.
This one was as hard as any he has hit this season -- a laser the other way that flew over the wall in right-center field. That was the product of one of the few changes he made after last season.
"I changed a little bit my approach thinking-wise to drive the ball the other way better," Cruz said.
Cruz's milestone occurred just two days after Red Sox starting pitcher John Lackey alluded to Cruz's 50-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal following a 5-for-5 day and one day after the outfielder was voted into the All-Star Game.
Cruz already has more home run than the 27 he hit during his suspension-shortened 2013 season, and he did it in fewer at-bats.
The American League MVP contender needs just five home runs to tie the career-high 33 he hit in 2009. He also leads the Majors with 73 RBIs and 201 total bases.
"Whatever I went through last year helps," Cruz said. "It helps to be more focused, realize what's important to me and my family and I think the overall experience."
Cruz's home run places him ahead of Jose Abreu (27) and Edwin Encarnacion (26) in the Major League home run race. Both have spent time on the disabled list this season. Encarnacion was placed on the 15-day DL on Monday with a right quad strain.
"It's something I cannot control," Cruz said, "so I just come here and do my business. Whatever's going on is beside that."
Gausman optioned to clear room for bullpen arm
WASHINGTON -- The Kevin Gausman shuttle continued on Monday, as the right-hander was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk to clear a roster spot for reliever Julio DePaula and help aid an overworked Orioles bullpen for Monday's series opener against the Nationals.
"[Manager] Buck [Showalter] told me we needed a bullpen arm," said Gausman, who started Sunday's game and has been recalled and optioned back to the Minors three times over the past month despite pitching well. "It's just one of those things. It's happened a couple times this year and it's happened every time we go into extras, so I kind of saw it coming ... not really surprised. Obviously, I want to stay, but I understand we want to keep those guys healthy out there."
Gausman was added to the roster prior to Sunday's win over the Red Sox and went 5 1/3 innings. The righty, who held Boston to a run on four hits and a pair of walks, tallied a career-high seven strikeouts and has allowed one run or fewer in four of his past five big league starts. But the O's were forced to use six relievers in the 12-inning contest and Gausman was the logical choice given that the team is set to activate starter Bud Norris on Tuesday, giving them a fifth starter.
Showalter reminded reporters again Monday that there's an end goal with Gausman, and part of what they are doing, along with creating roster space, is to ensure the prized young righty isn't shut down early.
"This allows us, if and when he comes back, to use him the rest of the year according to how the opposition lets him go in the game," Showalter said of Gausman, who has thrown 78 2/3 innings between the Majors and Minors this year and finished last year at 129 2/3. "That, and we needed a relief pitcher."
Gausman has had an unusual few weeks, as he was added to the team's roster on June 27 as its 26th man, sent back to his optional assignment after the game and started for short-season Class A Aberdeen before returning to the Majors for Sunday's game at Fenway Park.
He is expected to make at least one start at Norfolk, and with the four days for next week's All-Star break, he could miss only one start while serving the minimum 10-day stay. In six starts for the O's, he is 3-2 with a 3.51 ERA, with wins over Oakland, Toronto and Tampa Bay.
DePaula starts year in indy ball, now with O's
WASHINGTON -- Two weeks ago, the Orioles brought in Mark Hendrickson for a tryout hoping the reliever, who pitched for the O's from 2009-11, could give the team some organizational depth.
Now with the York Revolution of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, Hendrickson hadn't pitched in the Majors since 2011, and he wouldn't be making a return as the result of that tryout. But the O's did stumble across someone who could help.
Two weeks later -- upon Hendrickson's suggestion to scout a different Revolution pitcher -- the Orioles added Julio DePaula to the active roster for Monday's series opener at Nationals Park
"Somebody needs to sign him," Hendrickson told Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "He's by far the best pitcher in this league."
DePaula's only previous stint in the Majors came in the form of 16 appearances for the Twins in 2007. In 20 innings, he posted an 8.55 ERA.
This stint could be even shorter. Baltimore optioned Kevin Gausman to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for an extra relief pitcher after Sunday's 7-6, 12-inning win against the Red Sox. On Tuesday, the O's will activate Bud Norris from the disabled list to start against the Nats and will have to make a corresponding move. And the 31-year-old DePaula could head back to the Minors.
"We felt like he's our best option for what could be a day or two," Showalter said.
DePaula has pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings during three appearances for Double-A Bowie this season. He struck out eight, walked three and allowed three hits.
Showalter didn't list any specific relief pitchers who wouldn't be available on Monday, but Darren O'Day was the only one who didn't pitch on Sunday. DePaula is not only a fresh arm, but also a pitcher who can give the Orioles multiple innings.
"He was our best option all things considered for what we needed," Showalter said. "He's had a meteoric rise."
• The Orioles are considering flipping Miguel Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez's starts, which would push Gonzalez up to Thursday. The theory is they can get an extra reliever for Friday's game with the looming All-Star break.
• Steve Johnson (right shoulder tendinitis) is starting a rehab assignment for Aberdeen.
• Dylan Bundy's next outing for Class A Advanced Frederick, his second start for the Keys, will be on Thursday at Salem.
• Brad Brach became the first reliever this season to earn a win in three consecutive outings with Sunday's extra-innings win over the Red Sox.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. David Wilson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.