The Orioles enter the second half of the season with a 4 game league in the struggling AL East. They will begin their second half with a ten day west coast road trip against the A’s, Angels and Mariners. Buck announced earlier this week the rotation for those games will be Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Kevin Gausman, Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez. However, when Ubaldo Jimenez returns from the D.L. on July 29th the Orioles will have 6 potential starters on their roster and will be forced to make a tough decision.
Buck has talked about a six-man rotation in the past and in theory could be a plausible option. Chen and Gonzalez have always seemed to benefit from extra rest, and the extra rest could keep Kevin Gausman fresh into the post season. However, a major issue for the Orioles has been the amount of innings the bullpen has been forced to throw this season. With a six-man rotation the Orioles will have one less arm in an already taxed bullpen.
One thing they can’t afford to do is continue shuttling Kevin Gausman back and forth from Norfolk. He currently has the best ERA on the staff and has allowed 1 run or less in five of his seven starts this season. There is no doubt he has the best stuff on the staff and has pitched well enough to be given a chance to stay in the rotation. He needs to stay with the team and develop a routine, not live out of a suitcase.
The big question mark in the rotation is obviously Jimenez. The Orioles are hoping he can duplicate last year’s success when he pitched to an ERA of 1.82 after the all-star break. However, Orioles fans have yet to see anything similar to that this season. He currently has the highest ERA among the starters and has completed six innings only 3 times in his last ten games.
His contract makes him difficult to move out of the rotation. It would be hard to pay a long-reliever over twelve million a year, and his control problems wouldn’t work in late-inning role. However, if the Orioles decide to go with a six-man rotation and his struggles continue they can’t afford to have a starter who rarely provides quality innings, while at the same time having one less arm in the bullpen.
Having too much talent at a position is always a good problem to have, and injuries or other circumstances always seem to fix the problem for you. Also, the roster expands in September so the Orioles can finally add some depth to the bullpen. However, keeping six starters and having an under-sized, over-used bullpen could become an issue over the next month. Buck Showalter has always been a master planner, and Orioles fans should be sure he is well aware of the situation. It will be interesting to see if he can fit all the puzzle pieces together to keep the Birds on top of the AL East into October.