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Handicapping the race to become the Orioles' fifth starter

By Matt Vensel

4:30 PM EST, March 10, 2011

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With three weeks left in spring training, it seems as if four spots in the Orioles' Opening Day rotation are spoken for. Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz and Brad Bergesen are locks, and based on his first two outings and the reports out of Sarasota, Jake Arrieta looks to be a shoo-in, too.

But the race for the fifth spot in the rotation is wide-open right now. Veteran Justin Duchscherer and Chris Tillman are the frontunners, and Ryan Drese, Zach Britton and Rick VandenHurk are all in the running, too. Let's handicap each pitcher's chances to make the Orioles' Opening Day rotation when camp breaks.

Zach Britton: 10 percent. Based on potential and spring performance alone, Britton would be right up there with Duchscherer and Tillman. The Orioles' top pitching prospect hasn't allowed a run in five innings of work, and he didn't look a bit out of place Monday night against the Yankees. But there is no reason for the Orioles to rush the 23-year-old to Camden Yards, especially since it would mean starting his arbitration clock.

Ryan Drese: 20 percent. The Orioles' signing of this one-time 14-game winner didn't get much pub, which is understandable because it happened in 2004. But as my colleague Jeff Zrebiec explained in this post, manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Mark Connor are fond of him from their Rangers days. If Drese continues to pitch well, and if Duchscherer gets hurt and Tillman falters and Britton is held back -- yeah, that's a lot of ifs -- Drese could be a surprise fifth starter next month.

Justin Duchscherer: 33 percent. The addition of Duchscherer has the potential to be a steal if he can stay healthy. The former All-Star made just five starts the past two seasons, and his hip issue flared up early in camp. But in his spring debut Tuesday, Duchscherer pitched two scoreless innings. If he can avoid the disabled list, the job is his for the taking. Forgive me for having me doubts about that possibility.

Chris Tillman: 32 percent. Inconsistency is again the issue for Tillman, who has allowed four runs and seven hits in five innings of work this spring. Because of his promise and his experience from a year ago, Tillman is in line to get the job if Duchscherer goes down. But he would probably be best-served by spending some more time in Triple-A Norfolk. Let's not forget that he only turns 23 next month.

Rick VandenHurk: five percent. The Incredible Hurk -- does anyone call him that? -- would have to pitch very well to become a serious contender in this race, and he has struggled with his command so far this spring. OK, so he probably isn't going to start, but he still has a decent shot of making the Opening Day roster as a swing man out of the bullpen. Well, if he gets back under control, that is.