August 25, 2012; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Steve Johnson pitches in the second inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Fifth starter derby remains wide open

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Jake Arrieta‘s 6-inning, scoreless stint Wednesday added another wrinkle to the fifth-starter derby down in Sarasota, just as Brian Matusz‘s last impressive outing did in his own behalf. Arrieta was mostly sharp, but one baserunner per inning was a worrisome thing. He works better from the stretch and has shown an aptitude for escaping jams large, small and in between.

But even though he strung together a bunch of shutout innings this Spring, all it really tells me is that he consistently puts men on base. Getting into deep counts and giving up roughly a hit an inning will lead to early exits, and Buck Showalter‘s remarks after each outing have express the same concern.

So here I was, thinking Steve Johnson has been just as impressive, and at times maybe more, than either Arrieta or Matusz in Grapefruit League play, when he went out and laid an egg today. He loaded the bases and served up a 3-run double in the third inning of Friday’s win. It was just the kind of thing that will pitch a man right back to Norfolk.

Jair Jurrjens relieved him and spun five nearly spotless, shutout innings, staking his claim for the fifth slot with his best effort of the camp. It could almost be argued Kevin Gausman is a contender, since he’s looked sharp every time out, even though he hasn’t gone five innings yet. The only starting pitcher we can completely rule out for the rotation any time soon is Dylan Bundy.

Bundy’s dream of a starting spot in the majors before he can shave (only a slight exaggeration) was put temporarily on hold last week when he was sent to the minor league camp at Twin Lakes, Fla. He’ll start the season at Bowie, where he had some uneven performances and didn’t even get that much experience last summer before his call-up in September when the rosters expanded. In fairness to all comers for the back of the rotation, most of them put men on base. In other words, the perfect candidate really doesn’t exist, and if someone were any more perfect than the current candidates, that person would be the No. 1, not the No. 5.

Bundy’s dream still has time, though. He’ll be 20 all season, as his birthday is in November, and the Orioles can be counted on to need pitching depth in August and September, if this season is like any other in the history of baseball. Turning to starters who are not question marks, Wei-Yin Chen will pitch today’s exhibition against the Phillies at Ed Smith Stadium.

***

Much sound and fury usually signifies nothing, but when the Orioles decided they couldn’t move their Sept. 5 game so that the Ravens could open at home on that Thursday night, it signified even more sound and fury. The Ravens will open defense of their championship on the road, and get a home game back later in the season.

The Orioles didn’t accept getting pushed around, which is good. But it wasn’t their problem, and as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was quoted as saying, the Orioles didn’t ask for this. The Major League schedule for each season is made up the previous Fall, and the NFL schedule isn’t out yet. The Orioles had that home game Sept. 5 long before the Ravens won the Super Bowl. It’s the NFL and the Ravens who should have adjusted. The Orioles already lose a weekend of home dates because of the Baltimore Grand Prix.

The options were for the Ravens to play their opener that Wednesday rather than Thursday, to play it Sunday night, or to hit the road for that game. Wednesday was out because the NFL hesitated to play on Rosh Hashanah, or so they said. They moved last year’s opening game to Wednesday night because President Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention was that Thursday, and afterward Goodell may have promised NBC he wouldn’t switch nights on them again. It’s probably not Jewish High Holy Day-driven, but network-driven.

If it is network driven, the world has been saved, because the Ravens will still open on TV Sept. 5, it will just be an away game. Now I supposed the only question is that of how fans will go to the Orioles game at Camden Yards that night and watch the Ravens game at the same time.

One of the more intelligent reactions was from Torrey Smith, who Tweeted, “Am I the only person who didn’t really care if we opened up on the road or at home?” He added in another Tweet that it gets a road game out of the way and gives the Ravens a few extra days to rest.

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