BALTIMORE — The Orioles knew a roster move was coming with fifth starter Chris Tillman coming off the 15-day disabled list to make Saturday’s start against the Minnesota Twins, but manager Buck Showalter will keep an eight-man bullpen for the time being.
To make room for Tillman on the 25-man roster, the Orioles optioned infielder Yamaico Navarro to Triple-A Norfolk, a day after he was recalled to take the injured Brian Roberts’ roster spot. That move means Rule 5 selection T.J. McFarland will remain as a long reliever in the bullpen. Many speculated that executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would try to deal another reliever such as Luis Ayala or Tommy Hunter or attempt to work out a deal with McFarland’s original club — the Cleveland Indians — that would allow them to keep McFarland in the organization without him being on the 25-man roster.
Instead, Showalter will protect his bullpen arms by spreading out the workload in the early stages of the season as the current members of the starting rotation attempt to establish themselves as permanent fixtures. The Orioles manager also cited a 20-game stretch without a day off that begins on April 17. In Showalter’s eyes, it’s all about putting his top relievers in position to be at their best for the entire season.
Through the first four games of the season, no reliever has appeared in more than two games, with McFarland being the only member of the bullpen yet to appear in a game.
“We’re going to err on the side of carrying arms, especially protecting the bullpen, until guys kind of find their step as starters,” Showalter said prior to Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Twins. “[Pitching coach Rick Adair] and I spent a lot of time — mostly leaning with what Rick thinks — about protecting some of our guys’ innings, because we want to make sure we’ve got all of our bullets as we go through the season.”
Showalter expects to go back to a four-man bench at some point down the line, but he also pointed to the versatility up and down the list of position payers that allows them to play with a shorter bench. Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla can both play several infield positions while Steve Pearce was mentioned by the manager as the club’s emergency catcher in addition to his ability to play in the outfielder or first base.
Third baseman Manny Machado and first baseman Chris Davis are also capable of moving to other positions if necessary, just lending more support to Showalter’s decision to go with an extra bullpen arm.
“Right now, I’m more interested in passing the load around,” Showalter said. “We’ve got some different pieces. There will come a time where it’s not going to be that way all the time. I’m very protective of trying to make sure we get everybody off to a good start.”
For the second straight night, Flaherty started at second base on Saturday, but Showalter said Casilla will make his first start as an Oriole on Sunday. The Orioles will use both players at the position in Roberts’ absence over the next three to four weeks, but it appears that Flaherty is receiving the first chance to take the lead at second base in terms of playing time. The switch-hitting Casilla would figure to start against tough left-handed pitchers with the left-handed hitter Flaherty on the bench in this situations.
Flaherty is 0-for-6 with four strikeouts so far this year while Casilla struck out in his only plate appearance in Friday’s win over the Twins. Showalter did not rule out a strict platoon but said it will be a fluid situation based heavily on how the two perform.
Here are Saturday’s lineups…
CF Aaron Hicks
C Joe Mauer
LF Josh Willingham
1B Justin Morneau
DH Ryan Doumit
3B Trevor Plouffe
RF Chris Parmelee
2B Brian Dozier
SS Pedro Florimon
SP Vance Worley (0-1, 4.50 ERA)
LF Nate McLouth
3B Manny Machado
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
1B Chris Davis
C Matt Wieters
SS J.J. Hardy
2B Ryan Flaherty
DH Nolan Reimold
SP Chris Tillman (2012 stats: 9-3, 2.93 ERA)