Position battle for Orioles 5th rotation spot has begun to heat up

March 27, 2010 | Andrew Stewart

With spring training wrapping up in the coming week, and opening day right around the corner, the position battles on the Baltimore Orioles spring training roster have started to heat up. Players are putting in their last efforts to secure a one of the few remaining spot(s) on the Orioles 25-man opening day roster.

In an effort to sure up the starting rotation Baltimore traded relief pitcher Chris Ray for veteran starting pitcher Kevin Millwood. The deal gave the young staff an established top-end starter and a veteran in the club house. The Orioles took it a step further by placing Millwood’s locker in between Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman; two of the O’s top pitching prospects.

Baltimore’s opening day rotation will consist of Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen, and Brian Matusz; leaving the final spot in the rotation up for grabs. Thus, creating a heated battle between Chris Tillman and David Hernandez, both of whom made their major league debut last year. Although Tillman was expected to be the 5th starter before spring training, a string of shaky starts from Tillman, and some fine performances by Hernandez might be enough to re-open the spot.

Chris Tillman, 21 years-old, made his major league debut last season in July. Tillman was a 2nd round draft pick by the Seattle Mariners in the 2006 amateur draft. He was acquired by the Orioles in a deal that sent Erik Bedard to the Mariners in exchange for Adam Jones, George Sherrill, and Chris Tillman.

Tillman’s rookie season for the Orioles went as expected (2-5, 5.40 ERA, 65 IP). With one season under his belt, Baltimore had great expectations for the promising prospect. Before the season, the Orioles 5th and final spot in the rotation was all but certain to be Tillman’s. However, Tillman has struggled to find command with a strike out-to-walk ratio of (9BB/10k) on only 16.1 innings pitched. Even though Tillman has been plagued by some shaky performances this spring, his ERA has relatively stayed intact (3.86) and has held his opponents to a (.226) batting average, compared to his rookie season of (.297).

David Hernandez entered his second spring training with the club and a sense of urgency. Hernandez took advantage of one of his final tune-up starts today against the Boston Red Sox. On 5 scoreless innings, Hernandez struck out 6 against a loaded Red Sox roster. Further padding his spring numbers of an ERA of 3.00 on 15 innings pitched with 20 strike outs and only surrendering 3 walks. Hernandez ability to throw strikes and limit the amount of walks this spring has been vital, after he gave up 46 last year on 101 innings pitched.

Hernandez’s rookie season was very similar to Tillman’s (4-10, 5.42 ERA, 101 IP). In his rookie season Hernandez struggled with limiting homeruns, giving up 27, tied for second worst behind Jeremy Guthrie’s dismal 35. In his 15 innings pitched Hernandez has given up 3 homeruns, however all three of his homeruns came out of the bullpen. Since then Hernandez has gone (1-0, 8.2 IP, 0 ER, 8 K) on two starts, thus leaving Baltimore with one of its most difficult decisions regarding the final spot in the rotation.

If Chris Tillman is tabbed as the teams 5th starter, Hernandez role with the team will most likely be to offer relief out of the bullpen, consequently eating up one of the few remaining bullpen spots.