It seems so long ago, but just a couple of weeks ago some were predicting Zach Britton as the frontrunner for the fifth starter in the Orioles’ rotation. Baseball can change in a blink. With the signings of Yoon and Jimenez, the batch of younger pitchers primed to battle for the final rotation spot this spring now get pushed onto the backburner. Unfortunately for the Orioles, they’ll likely need more than five starters this season. Injuries, extra rest or ineffectiveness will inevitably bring opportunities for other starters. But who’s first up?
I guess we have to start with Zach Britton, if only because he’s out of options. The lefty sinker-baller hasn’t shown many flashes of major-league consistency since his rookie year. He’s struggled with control and his strikeout numbers are not where they need to be in that division. This could be a Jake Arrieta situation for Britton. He’s going to get a short leash before we start hearing the “change of scenery” discussion.
Brian Matusz may have been the most intriguing candidate before the signings. Once compared to Cole Hamels, Matusz sprinted through the minors and found early success as a starter. All of that fell apart with his disastrous 2011 season, which he ended with an ERA over 10. However, Matusz’s career regained footing, proving to be a valuable and reliable arm out of the bullpen during the Orioles’ playoff run in 2012. He’s always wanted another crack at the rotation, and early reports this offseason said he had been working on the change-up that made him such a high-rated prospect a few years ago. It’s his lefty/righty splits that scare people. The change-up would be the key to balance those out. It will be interesting to see if he’s back in the bullpen this season, or if the Orioles take a chance trying to stretch him back into a starter.
Coming into this season, most believed Kevin Gausman needed a little more time in the minors to harness his skills. However, with electric stuff like his it’s not inconceivable for his spring showing to have been too impressive to ignore, forcing himself into April’s rotation. He seemed to be stuck last season. His numbers in the minors made it look too easy. He didn’t look challenged there, but wasn’t quite ready for the AL East. Like Matusz, he struggled at times in the rotation but eventually found some success in the bullpen, even becoming one of Buck’s go-to arms in September. He’ll start the season for the Tides but with that arm, he may not be there for long.
As of today there are several names you could add to this list, and during the year a few unexpected names will emerge. However the rotation plays out this season, the Orioles may have the most pitching depth they’ve had in many years.