By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
7:30 AM EST, December 26, 2012
In this morning's Baltimore Sun, I wrote a story in Orioles right-hander Steve Johnson, who hopes to stick next season after making an impressive major league debut in 2012.
Johnson will have the opportunity to crack the Orioles' starting rotation this season, manager Buck Showalter says. He might be a dark horse for the role, and his flexibility might actually hurt him -- he did well as both a starter and reliever last season -- but the Orioles had to be impressed with his process last season.
At the holiday party the Orioles threw for kids earlier this month, I asked Johnson to reflect a little bit on the past year. He re-signed with the O's as a minor league free agent, hoping to break through on his hometown team. He had the corner locker in spring training, one that bangs into the drink cooler every time it was opened. The Orioles had to put him on the 40-man roster near midseason so he wouldn't enact an out clause in his contract. By the end of the season, he was a critical piece to the Orioles pitching staff because of his flexibility.
"I worked hard to get where I was last year, and it's not over yet for me," Johnson said. "Getting to the big leagues was a goal, and when you get there, you want to stay there. My goals have changed. I worked really hard, and getting the corner locker was like starting at the low levels in the minors. It's the way it is and you've got to work your way up and I did that, but I don't want to be one and done, so I'm going to work hard and stay there."
There's much more stability with the Orioles starting rotation than there was at this time last season. Right hander Jason Hammel and left hander Wei-Yin Chen are locks. Right-handed Miguel Gonzalez seems to be as well. And right hander Chris Tillman will have a leg up on the competition after his strong showing in the second half of the season.
There will be injuries -- and the Orioles' pitching depth was key down the stretch -- but it doesn't leave much room for opportunity for the remaining arms hoping to crack the starting rotation. Candidates will include Jake Arrieta, last year's Opening Day starter, and Zach Britton, who fell behind with shoulder problems early in the year. Brian Matusz, who flourished in a relief role, will likely get another shot to start, and Johnson showed he could do the job as well.
But here's the question for you. What starting five give the Orioles the best opportunity to win in the American League East?
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