• Mar

    Starter's competition changes in just a week

    Amazing what a week can do when it comes to pitching in spring training.

    Last week I wrote up my thoughts on the rotation and after just one week It's pretty obvious it needs to be revised. Since I took so much heat for my non-scientific odds, I'll skip the odds, but instead go with the rotation order as I see it currently.

    We have to start off with the only two locks in the rotation, Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara. Guthrie is off pitching for the US in the World Baseball Classic, but Uehara has impressed everyone with his impressive command in his two solid outings so far. The next step for Koji is to prove he can go through a lineup more than one or two times, and we really won't know that until the season starts. So far so good though.

    After those two, the competition remains wide open for the last three spots, but there has been a some surprises and of course injuries that are affecting the completion.

    Most disheartening of course was the elbow "discomfort" that caused Rich Hill to miss his scheduled start and sent him to get an MRI. The MRI came back showing no significant damage, but Hill has yet to pitch this spring competitively although he was scheduled to do some throwing on the side today. No one is saying it, but this might actually play into the Orioles favor in the long run. Hill could be put onto the DL to start the year and then sent on a lengthy rehab through the minors which will enable them to get a much longer evaluation period on the left-hander. Also, the Orioles should have a much clearer picture of their rotation situation by late April or May when hopefylly Hill will be back to 100 percent. Unfortunately, unless Hill has a miraculous recovery, it's doubtful he's going to break camp as a starter with the Orioles. So much for my 1-1 odds from last week.

    With Hill out (he was my choice for third starter last week), Hayden Penn moves up into the lead for 3rd spot . Penn tossed three scoreless innings in an intrasquad game despite battling a blister that limited him to mainly fastballs and changeups. He allowed just one hit and that followed up his two scoreless inning in his only "official" outing this spring. Dave Trembley liked what he saw and was impressed with the gutty performance. There's a long way to go, but clearly Penn is a favorite right now for one of the rotation spots.

    Radhames Liz was one of my favorites for the rotation with injuries to Brad Hennessey and John Parrish opening up opportunities, but his performance so far plus the signing of Adam Eaton and the performance of Brad Bergesen, Matt Albers, and even Brian Matusz is making it look like he'll need to really turn it around to stay in the hunt. Liz couldn't get out to the third inning today and according to MASN's Roch Kubatko, he threw just 28 of his 46 pitches for strikes in two and a third innings. Liz's best role is probably going to be in the bullpen one day anyway, so it might be time for the Orioles to accept this and have him pitch in relief at Norfolk to start the year. He still has time, but Liz's problems have always been his pitch counts and I think he'll throw closer to 96-98 MPH if he were a one inning pitcher instead of a starter.

    David Pauley helped himself out after a disastrous first appearance last week when he came back and pitched three strong innings against the Nationals. Throwing 29 of his 40 pitches for strikes (thanks Roch), Pauley's only blemish was a wind-aided home run to Nick Johnson. He struck out three and did not walk a batter. Without any options remaining, Pauley has zoomed into the fourth spot in my opinion.

    Hennessey and Parrish have yet to pitch since my last report although both are back to a throwing program. Either way, their inactivity probably was a big reason the Orioles went out and signed Eaton to a minor league contract. Now before you get excited over the fact that the Orioles signed a name guy, Eaton hasn't had an ERA under 5.12 since 2005 and the Phillies released him this spring despite the fact they still owed him $9 million. Trembley has stated that Eaton has been promised nothing but a chance, but you have to imagine if Eaton pitches well this spring he's going to be given every opportunity to win a spot in the rotation.

    Matt Albers spread out four hits in two innings of work and could certainly end up in the rotation if the Orioles think he can get into that sixth inning. I still personally think his best role is as long reliever swingman type but I'd like to see him given the 5th job over Eaton. Trembley has basically ruled out Brian Bass from the competition saying he prefers him in that long/middle role. Mark Hendrickson's back keeps getting in the way of him getting involved in the competition. He was scratched from a start do to his tight back and has not looked sharp this spring anyways. Chris Waters gave up a couple of runs in his couple innings of work and really just remains an emergency option at this point. And finally, Danys Baez continues to struggle with his command and may be pitching himself off the team if he doesn't turn things around.

    So what about the longshots from last week? Well the biggest surprise among this group has been the emergence of Bergesen this spring. Everyone from Trembley, to catcher Greg Zaun, to the media were lavishing praise on the right-hander after his three innings of shutout work on Monday. Bergesen has options remaining and might still benefit from some time in Triple-A, but it certainly is not hurting him to leave a good impression this spring, even if he doesn't break camp with the Orioles.

    No surprise to me so far was the fact that Brian Matusz has pitched so well this spring. With his three shutout innings today, he's now thrown four and a third shutout innings, striking out three, while allowing just two hits and a walk. It not a surprise because of the scout from another organization who told me after the Arizona Fall League that Matusz was major league ready and already the second best pitcher the Orioles have besides Guthrie. So far this spring, he's showing that scout might have been right. I've heard the plan all winter was to send Matusz to Frederick to start the year, but I wonder if his performance could get him a start in Bowie, or maybe....nah, I still can't imagine the Orioles having him go straight from college to the bigs, no matter what he does this spring.

    Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and even David Hernandez have pitched well this spring, but they are all ticketed to the minors unless a bunch of injuries occur to the guys in front of them. Troy Patton has been limited all spring and is yet to see any live action, but he was ticketed to the minors to start the season as well.

    OK, so if the season started today, here's how I see the rotation:

    1. Guthire
    2. Uehara
    3. Penn
    4. Pauley
    5. Albers/Eaton

    Saying that, Liz and Bergesen could still get into the mix and of course if Hennessey, Parrish, or Hendrickson get healthy they could move back into the competition as well.

    Matusz remains the deep, dark horse but might be the best of them all and I'm not talking about in the future, but now.

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Tony Pente

Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.