One thing some fans might recall from last year’s spring training is the fact that manager Buck Showalter held many of the Orioles’ starting pitchers out of spring training games – especially games against AL East rivals. I thought at the time that was a bad idea, and quite frankly I still think it’s a bad idea. In saying that keep in mind that it’s probably not a season-maker or breaker either way, but my point was and still is that pitchers need to get their work in during spring training. And if you look at the Baltimore Orioles of last year, the bullpen got taxed hard early on due to starters not being able to go deep into games.
And who knows whether or not the starters weren’t going deep into games based squarely on the fact that they didn’t pitch often in spring training. It’s really beside the point. However Showalter’s idea at the time was that it behooved the franchise not to expose their chief competition to the starting pitchers. In a way it makes sense, however on the flip side my counter-point would be that the pitchers don’t then get a chance to be exposed to guys they’ll see 18 games in the coming season. It’s kind of a catch-22 in a sense.
However in looking at the rotation as we know it now, Chris Tillman will be pitching on Friday against Tampa and Miguel Gonzalez on Saturday against Toronto. Both of those are presumed starters. So is Showalter relenting on this point this year? I’m not sure that “relent” is the proper term, but it does appear that he’s doing something differently as opposed to last year. Let me be clear; in no way do I feel it’s important that the team have a five-man rotation on opening day of Grapefruit League play. In fact, I would submit that it’s actually harmful in a way. I think that teams should take a look at different guys in starting and even relief roles, because the odds of the rotation in September being what it was in April is next-to-none. There will be some other guys who will have to step up and start for the Orioles, and at least if they had the opportunity to start a game or two in the spring it might not seem quite as foreign.
This goes for guys who will end up in Norfolk as well. They might see someone start a spring training game who’s not quite up to starting at the big league level, but who needs just a bit more seasoning. It’s also worth throwing in the fact that no team will be able to keep everyone that they have in camp, but the last thing anyone wants to do is let someone go for nothing. So the more guys you showcase the more other teams get to see them and perhaps some of those teams might be interested in making a deal.
However I would submit that it behooves any team to have their would-be starters actually starting and/or participating in games (even out of the bullpen) throughout the spring as opposed to hiding them. Buck Showalter said they might not have Ubaldo Jimenez start at all in the spring, but presumably that’s due to the fact that he came to camp late and is a bit behind the rest of the staff. I don’t see anyway that Jimenez isn’t in the rotation on March 31st.
For what it’s worth (and we’ll probably touch on this a few times throughout the spring), there will come a point where Showalter will need to look to get the guys into a rotation of sorts. The Orioles’ lone off day is on Tuesday March 18th, and I suspect that many decisions will be made that day with the roster and specifically with the starting rotation. The Orioles’ open the season on Monday March 31st, and the final Grapefruit League game is Thursday March 27th against Tampa. (They do have a game scheduled in Norfolk against the Tides on Saturday the 29th, however I would expect someone who ends up pitching in Norfolk to start that game for the Orioles – it’s almost an inter-squad scrimmage.) I suspect that whomever ends up being the Opening Day starter will pitch that night. Thursday starters will often see their turn come up in the rotation again on Monday, so it would put that pitcher right on schedule. It’s just something to watch – but let’s start the games before we get into the final week of camp!