Orioles musings on starting rotation and more

March 16, 2015 | Luke Jones

The debate has continued all winter and spring over what Orioles manager Buck Showalter will do with his starting rotation in 2015.

Ubaldo Jimenez has done little to quell concerns — an 11.05 ERA and five walks in 7 1/3 innings in the Grapefruit League — but his place on the roster is secure with just under $39 million going into his bank account over the next three years. Even if Showalter makes the right baseball decision by sending Jimenez to the bullpen and including both Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman in his rotation — they both have minor-league options remaining — there’s another question that we should be asking.

Who’s next after that?

The Orioles were one of 10 teams in the majors last season to have at least four starters make 25 or more starts, but it’s highly unlikely they’d be able to get away with simply stashing Jimenez in the bullpen all season without any worries. Last season, only two clubs had five starters make 25 or more starts — Washington and Kansas City — and just 36 teams have accomplished that feat since 2000 with 23 of them making the postseason.

Even considering Jimenez’s struggles, Baltimore was fortunate to use only seven starting pitchers last season with lefty long reliever T.J. McFarland making one spot start. In their previous five years, the Orioles used an average of just under 12 starting pitchers per season. Of course, that time frame includes some poor clubs with rotations in a state of flux, but even the 2013 Boston Red Sox used 11 starting pitchers on their way to a World Series title, showing that it’s not a rule that only affects poor clubs.

This is why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is so reluctant to trade away any of his starting pitchers as the odds suggest the Orioles will need to look beyond those first six for help at various points in 2015 due to health concerns or poor performance. In fact, there’s a 65 percent likelihood they will have two starting pitchers ailing at the same time, per FanGraphs.

So while we continue to monitor Jimenez’s progress — or lack thereof — and wonder what it means for Gonzalez and Gausman over the next few weeks, we should probably be paying more attention to how the likes of T.J. McFarland, Mike Wright, Dylan Bundy, Steve Johnson, Tyler Wilson, Tim Berry, and even the 20-year-old Hunter Harvey are performing this spring. The odds suggest we’ll see some combination of them take the hill at some point in 2015 for at least a start or two.

Wieters taking off training wheels

Matt Wieters is set to crouch behind the plate for the first time in Grapefruit League action on Tuesday, which represents his biggest test yet after catching several times in controlled settings where runners were instructed not to steal.

It will be the first time Wieters is allowed to “cut it loose” in a live-game setting as he’s essentially completed his throwing progression and rehabilitation. The early indications from Sarasota have been positive with the Orioles timing Wieters’ throws in recent days, but seeing how he responds in a regular game will go a long way in determining whether he’s behind the plate for the April 6 opener.

This timetable will give Wieters more than two weeks of spring games in which he could catch to gauge his progress before the club makes a decision on his status for the start of the season. He’d also like to get himself on track at the plate as he’s hitless in 20 Grapefruit League at-bats.

Who’s in right?

Upon being acquired in late January, Travis Snider was considered by many to be the favorite to replace Nick Markakis as the regular right fielder, but you wouldn’t know it based on how the spring has gone.

That isn’t to say Snider won’t have a meaningful role with the Orioles this season, but the former Pittsburgh and Toronto outfielder hasn’t started in right since an intrasquad game played on March 1. Since then, he’s started six games in left field and once as the designated hitter, making you wonder if Showalter views him as a better option at the other corner outfield position.

Snider collected three hits in Sunday’s loss to the Pirates and is 7-for-22 this spring.

Over the last 10 days or so, it’s been a steady trend of Steve Pearce and Chris Davis alternating between first base and right field, which isn’t shocking considering Showalter has regularly complimented Pearce’s work at first base and Davis’ ability to play the outfield since the end of last season. Both figure to be in the lineup nearly every day, but where each will be playing in April could be interesting.

Of course, we shouldn’t forget that Showalter is prone to using many different alignments based on the matchup any given night, so we can’t read too much into there trends with more than two weeks of spring games remaining.

Spring woes

The Orioles entered Monday holding a 3-11 record, the worst mark of any club in the Grapefruit League or the Cactus League.

This has led some to ask whether this is cause for concern for a club that lost Markakis, Nelson Cruz, and Andrew Miller and didn’t make a big-name acquisition over the winter. The Orioles have managed just 39 runs in those 14 games.

There are obvious question marks with the Orioles — just like any major league club — but I just can’t put much stock into anything we’re seeing this spring when players are simply preparing for the season and many hurlers are using games as times to experiment with certain pitches. When you look at the daily box scores, you’ll see there are too many players involved in these games who won’t be with the club once the season starts.

Beyond unique cases like Jimenez and individuals coming back from serious injuries like Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado, what happens in Florida is of little consequence in terms of projecting what will happen over a 162-game marathon. I’ll take the last seven seasons of evidence from Adam Jones over his current .174 average in 23 spring at-bats to determine what to expect from him in 2015.

Showalter always says you can’t be fooled by what you see in March — good or bad. And I believe him.