Although he swallows hard on the idea of a trip back to the small-time, pitcher Jim Palmer probably will serve a 20-day stint on one of the Baltimore Orioles' minor league teams before returning to the starting rotation.

"We haven't decided anything for sure," Hank Peters, the Orioles' general manager, said yesterday. "We'll talk about it this weekend. But in all likelihood this is something that we'll have to do."

"With Mike (Flanagan) coming back Wednesday and a pennant race going on, I don't think we can have both of us coming back at the same time," said Palmer, who has not pitched since June 25 because of back, shoulder and arm ailments.

Altobelli and Peters said they are considering sending Palmer to pitch for Class A Hagerstown, AA Charlotte or AAA Rochester, but have not decided which team has the most accommodating schedule.

Flanagan, 6-0 before being disabled by a knee injury, was originally slated to start Saturday but will not start until Wednesday's game against the Indians.

"It would put a strain on the bullpen to have us both come back at the same time," Flanagan said. "Neither one of us could go more than four or five innings the first few times out."

Palmer has been throwing batting practice and simulated innings lately, but he and Peters feel such exercises are an insufficient gauge of his progress.

"Going to the minors is not something I really want to do," Palmer said. "But I want to go wherever I'm going soon. I'm not sure I'd really need 20 days down there (in the minors). I'm paid to win major league games." However, Peters said, "In all likelihood, (Palmer) will need the full 20 days."

Palmer said Flanagan's health was only slightly better than his own. "And let's face it," Palmer said. "This is the last year of my contract and Mike started out great."

"The thing is, though," Peters said, "Mike's arm is fine. That's a different story with a pitcher."

With Palmer and Flanagan out of the lineup, and with Dennis Martinez faltering, the Orioles have relied on young pitchers such as Allan Ramirez and Mike Boddicker.