By Peter Schmuck, The Baltimore Sun
2:07 PM EST, February 22, 2012
Much has been made of the fact that there are a dozen candidates for the Orioles' starting rotation, but that's only half the story.
The field of starting pitchers under consideration to be the Opening Day starter is almost as wide-open.
When the Orioles traded Jeremy Guthrie to the Colorado Rockies, they were left with no obvious choice to start against the Minnesota Twins in the regular-season opener April 6 at Camden Yards, but they have plenty of pitchers to choose from.
Manager Buck Showalter said he really hasn't given it a lot of thought yet, for a variety of reasons — one of them simply that the designation may not be all that significant under the club's current circumstances.
“I know the connotation of that, but I don't look at it that way,” he said. “Maybe that's just because of where we are, but I don't dwell on that kind of thing. ... It's not really a part of the conversation with the pitchers either because a lot of them are just trying to make the club. I look at it as a strength that you have so many optionable players competing for your club. That's something a lot of people don't have.”
The possibilities range from relative newcomer Tommy Hunter to recently acquired Jason Hammel, who has the most major league experience in the group. Jake Arrieta pitched the home opener last year — though it wasn't Opening Day — and has a chance if he is as healthy as advertised after surgery to remove that bone spur from his elbow. Throw in Asian pitchers Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada and journeyman Dana Eveland and the Orioles certainly have the makings of an interesting competition.
Hunter, however, agrees with Showalter that being named the Opening Day starter is not his primary goal — and should not be the main focus of anyone of the candidates for the rotation. He's looking way beyond that.
“I think, the more you're here, the more your goals change,” Hunter said. “I don't think these guys know what it means to play in October. Having done that and being a part of a World Series team, I'd much rather do that than pitch on Opening Day.”
Hunter didn't stop there. He surveyed the clubhouse and made a comparison that should come as music to the ears of beleaguered Orioles fans. He thinks there actually are similarities between the situation facing the Orioles this spring and the Texas Rangers team he played for in 2010. That team opened spring training with a very young rotation and ended up in the World Series.
“It was an unproven staff,” Hunter said. “You had three guys that were right at two years or under — Matt Harrison, myself and Derek Holland. C.J. Wilson was our go-to guy, and it was his first year as a starter in five years. We just went in with nothing to lose, and look what happened. It's a very similar situation.”
Hunter isn't making any wild predictions, just reminding everyone of the you-never-know nature of baseball.
“It can happen to anyone,” Hunter said. “I honestly believe that if you get a group of guys committed to one goal ... if you've got a group of guys that believe in something hard enough, you're going to get there. That's what it takes. It definitely takes a little talent. It definitely takes a little luck. It takes people playing above their capabilities.”
Wieters on Wada, Chen
Catcher Matt Wieters caught Wada's bullpen session Tuesday and Chen's on Wednesday and said he was impressed with both.
On Wada: “He's ready to go. He's locating four pitches on both sides of the plate. That's the type of pitcher he is. It went well.”
On Chen: “The ball came out of his hand very well. And more importantly, his location, for this part of the spring, was good. He worked both sides of the plate. He didn't miss very many spots. For the first day out of the bullpen catching him, I was impressed.”
On communicating with them: “Fastball, changeup, curveball, slider. They know all those terms. We'll work on further communication later.”
Around the horn
Left-hander Zach Britton is continuing his throwing progression with back-to-back throwing sessions Thursday and Friday. He'll take Saturday off, then throw three straight days, when Britton said he would likely begin to mix in some off-speed pitches. “Maybe I'll continue throwing ... the whole week, maybe have a day off,” Britton said. “We really don't know yet.” He's still throwing off flat ground but said he wants to throw off a mound by next weekend. ... The Orioles had an early workout Wednesday — many players were participating in reliever Jim Johnson's golf tournament — but beforehand, several pitchers threw their first open bullpen sessions. Among them were Chen, Dylan Bundy, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jason Berken, Pat Neshek, Armando Galarraga, Jon Link, Miguel Socolovich, Oliver Drake, Willie Eyre, Oscar Villarreal and Steve Johnson. ... The Orioles had to scramble for catching help after Dane Sardinha failed his physical and left camp. They called in minor leaguer Michael Ohlman to help out — because he lives in the area — and have summoned Caleb Joseph to report to big league camp. Showalter said the Orioles also are close to signing another catcher with Triple-A experience to assign to minor league camp.
Baltimore Sun reporter Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this article.
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