We're just a day away from the start of another season of Orioles baseball, and while there's no shortage of things to keep your interest during Tuesday's opener against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., here are three to keep a particularly sharp eye on:1. Orioles starting pitcher Kevin Millwood. Will the veteran bounce back from a thoroughly underwhelming spring with a strong performance against the Rays? Millwood's spring numbers were eye-opening – and not in a good way. He allowed 21 hits and accumulated a 12.96 ERA in just 8 1/3 innings. As Jeff Zrebiec wrote in an earlier post, Millwood is known for putting up bad numbers in spring training and then going on to have solid or better regular seasons – only twice in 13 big league seasons has he recorded an ERA above 4.85, both for the Texas Rangers, who play in a very hitter-friendly ballpark. That being said, when a pitcher who was acquired for the purpose of being a staff ace gets knocked around like a kid facing major league hitters for the first time, it's obvious cause for concern. It's only one game, so whether Millwood struggles Tuesday or pitches lights-out, it's too early to draw any conclusions. A good outing, however, would certainly do a lot to allay the concerns of Orioles fans.
2. Brian Roberts' health. The Orioles' second baseman and leadoff hitter is recovering from a herniated disk in his back, and he told The Sun's Peter Schmuck that he's still playing through pain. Igniter, catalyst, table-setter – call Roberts whatever you like, the fact is as he goes, so goes the Orioles' offense. Roberts saw very limited action in spring training because of the back injury, so whether he has shaken off the rust a valid question. However, I'm more interested in watching the way Roberts looks when he's swinging a bat and making plays in the field. If he can't recover quickly or, worse, has to miss a significant number of games, an Orioles team that struggled at the plate this spring is going to have trouble generating runs.
3. Felix Pie's performance. The 25-year-old was raking in spring training, posting a .342 batting average (he batted just .222 for the Orioles in spring training last year) and hitting a pair of home runs. His outstanding play, as well as the fact that Nolan Reimold isn't completely healed from surgery on his left Achilles tendon, earned Pie the Opening Day start in left field over Reimold. The Orioles have maintained that they're committed to Reimold – as well they should be after he hit .279 with 15 homers and 45 RBIs last year as a rookie – but Pie is a once-highly-touted prospect who is still young and possesses all the tools you look for in an outfielder. He deserves to play and play a lot. That's the only way he'll continue to improve, and I expect the Orioles will make sure he gets onto the field quite a bit. It's too early to speculate that Pie could supplant Reimold as the Orioles' left fielder of the future, but if Pie keeps progressing, the team could find itself in the enviable position of having four young, starting-caliber outfielders to fill three spots in the lineup.