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Projecting the Orioles' rotation with Duchscherer

The Orioles scratched one more thing off their offseason wishlist over the weekend, signing veteran starter Justin Duchscherer to a one-year deal. The 33-year-old right-hander is 33-25 with a 3.13 ERA in his career, though he has made just five starts since 2008 due to a hip ailment, an elbow injury that cost him all of the 2009 season and an ongoing battle with depression. Duchscherer is another low-risk, high-upside signing.

It probably isn't safe to assume that Duchscherer will give the Orioles 20 or so starts this season, but now's the time for optimism, so why not? With Duchscherer slotted in the rotation between veteran Jeremy Guthrie and promising sophomore starter Brian Matusz, the Orioles have depth to burn, which is always a plus.

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But with Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton expected to duke it out for the final two starter spots on the Opening Day roster, there is uncertainly surrounding the back end of the rotation.

I expect Britton to start the season in Norfolk, where he can continue to develop away from the bright lights and potent AL East lineups at Camden Yards. And I think Bergesen will parlay his strong finish to the 2010 season into the No. 4 spot in the Orioles rotation, so let's remove those two from the conversation.

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That means it could be a battle between Tillman and Arrieta for the final rotation spot. Tillman has shown glimpses of the tantalizing stuff that once made him one of the top prospects in baseball, but he is maddeningly inconsistent. If he can't keep it together in spring training -- or once the season begins -- the Orioles will be forced to send him to Norfolk to refine his focus some more. That opens the door for Arrieta.

So projecting today, my rotation would be Guthrie, Duchscherer, Matusz, Bergesen and Tillman. But one sore arm -- like the one strapped to Duchscherer's right shoulder -- could change things up in a hurry.

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