Closings & delays

Orioles: The plot thickens

Dave Trembley came as close as he has yet to naming Kevin Millwood the Opening Day starter,today, as if anybody has any doubt about that. The real intrigue revolves around the fifth starter battle and who might be the long guy in the bullpen.

That may have become clearer today with the strong performance of David Hernandez and strong indications that the team will go with a 12-man pitching staff. Both Andy MacPhail and Dave Trembley said that no final decision have been made on the final makeup of the regular season rotation or the bullpen, but much of what they said pointed to the possibility that Hernandez has moved ahead of Tillman.

MacPhail is actually happy that this is a big issue.

"Absolutely,'' he said. "This is the type of thing you're hoping for...We have guys competing for spots and we don't have spots competing for guys."

The decision between Tillman and Hernandez is a multi-layered choice. Tillman is probably the guy with the higher ceiling, but Hernandez might be better suited to jump right into the rotation, and that's particularly important for the Orioles this year because they open with 16 straight games without a day off, so the No. 5 guy can't be skipped the first three times through the rotation.

The schedule puts a premium on long relief, since the club may need a lot of innings with a young rotation. That might even point to both Hernandez and Jason Berken making the team over Tillman and a situational guy.

"The thing we try to impress on the kids is the obvious fact that nobody uses the same 12 pitchers all year,'' MacPhail said. "The beginning of the season is just a snapshot in time."

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