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Wei-Yin Chen's return makes for a crowded starting rotation picture

Zach BrittonBaseballBaltimore OriolesWei-Yin ChenKevin GausmanScott Feldman

For the Orioles, this is a good problem to have.

Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen threw seven shutout innings for Double-A Bowie on Thursday night in Harrisburg, Pa., in his second minor-league rehab start. After the game, he was on his way to New York City to rejoin the Orioles on Friday for the weekend series at Yankee Stadium.

Chen will be activated from the disabled list next week. The big question is whose spot in the rotation he takes.

Before the game, Orioles manager Buck Showalter was open ended talking about the corresponding roster move to activate Chen, but it sounded like either Zach Britton or Kevin Gausman would be the one heading back to Triple-A Norfolk.

But then Britton went out Thursday and threw his best game of the season, allowing just two runs over a season-high seven innings for his first quality start in five big league outings this season. He deserves another start, and Showalter might give it to him on regular rest Tuesday against the Rangers and then start Chen on Wednesday. So the Orioles could conceivably start Britton on Tuesday, option him to Norfolk after the game and activate Chen for Wednesday.

But what if Britton pitches well again? He’s given himself a little bit of rope -- because seven-inning outings haven’t been very common in this rotation.

Britton was very good Thursday, pounding the bottom of the strike zone and using his sinker to get 11 ground-ball outs. Even when the White Sox scored two runs in the sixth, he was able to limit the damage -- something he wasn’t able to do earlier this season.

“I feel like I was getting better every time out,” Britton said. “Obviously, the sixth inning has been a hurdle, but I felt I was even getting better, even though I wasn’t getting out of that inning the last couple outings. It was kind of putting it a little bit more together. I feel like I still have a ways to go to get to where I want to be, but it’s a good start.”

Another option is sending Gausman down to Triple-A to get regular starts instead of working out of the bullpen. That’s not a bad idea, but Gausman currently fits a valuable role as a right-handed long man who can also be brought in the late innings to blow a guy away. He's thrown 5 1/3 scoreless relief innings. Right now, the bullpen is sort of in flux. Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day are solid late-inning arms, and while Jim Johnson has blown five saves, he’s good to close out the game on most nights.

Pedro Strop’s departure, which was needed because he was just being hidden for garbage-time situations to build his confidence, leaves the need for another right-handed pitcher. And Gausman can learn a lot from pitching in relief. The mentality of being thrown into the fire can help a young pitcher. And there’s not much in Norfolk that can fill that role if he doesn’t.

But if push comes to shove, it might be Gausman who gets sent down. He has more to gain by going back down to Norfolk.

Regardless, this is better than the back-of-the-rotation musical chairs the Orioles have had this season.

Showalter said he thinks it will all sort itself out. I’ve had some readers ask if they should take right-hander Jason Hammel -- who has struggled -- out of the rotation and put him in the bullpen.

I don’t think that’s going to happen. Barring an injury, I think Hammel stays in the rotation.

But Britton’s emergence, along with the acquisition of Scott Feldman, definitely makes it a crowded rotation.

We’ll see what happens.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Zach BrittonBaseballBaltimore OriolesWei-Yin ChenKevin GausmanScott Feldman
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