The Orioles have a workout this morning before boarding buses late this afternoon and heading to St. Petersburg where they'll begin a three-game series and their 2011 season on Friday night against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. The position players will take some batting practice and do the usual defensive drills. It will be a big afternoon for a couple of pitchers in determining where they'll be and what role they'll occupy on Opening Day. Brian Matusz, who is supposed to start Saturday night, will try to play catch for the first time after getting drilled in the left arm by an L.J. Hoes liner in a simulated game Monday. Brad Bergesen, who hasn't pitched in a game since he was hit in the right forearm by a Denard Span liner last Friday, is scheduled to throw two or three innings against Oriole minor leaguers at Ed Smith Stadium. Jake Arrieta is in line to throw about six innings in that game. When the workout/game is done, we should have a better idea on how the final two or three roster questions facing the Orioles heading into Friday will be answered. But for now:
Who will start Saturday?
As of yesterday, Matusz was still saying that he was optimistic that he'll be able to take the ball for the second game of the season. He got treatment on his arm all day with the hopes of playing catch today. Certainly, the Orioles want the young lefty on the mound Saturday opposite James Shields. However, if he isn't feeling that great, they have the option of pushing him back a couple of days, possibly to Monday's home opener. That would allow them to move up Arrieta, the scheduled starter that day, to Saturday, giving Matusz a couple of more days to heal and get ready. Orioles manager Buck Showalter pushed back the start of the minor league/simulated game today because if Matusz is unable to play catch, they would likely scratch Arrieta from that game and establish him as Saturday's starter. However, if it is deemed that Matusz isn't ready and won't be for several days, the Orioles may be forced to put him on the disabled list, thus opening up even more questions.
Who will start Sunday?
The Orioles have held off on this announcement because they want to see how Bergesen looks today. I'm not sure how much they'll learn watching the right-hander facing minor leaguers for two or three innings, but the big question is whether Bergesen is healthy. The outsider belief had been that they feel more comfortable with Bergesen in the bullpen than Chris Tillman. That would mean Tillman would start on Sunday and then Bergesen would stay in the bullpen until the Orioles need a fifth starter on April 10. However, Showalter has not provided any hints that the club is leaning in that direction. If Matusz heads to the disabled list, both Tillman and Bergesen would start the season in the rotation.
Who will close if the Orioles have a lead Friday night?
Showalter has pretty much side-stepped this question all spring and I don't expect that to change today. Jim Johnson has looked, far and away, like the Orioles' best reliever over the past four weeks, but spring numbers don't mean too much and I think the team is more comfortable with him in the seventh or eighth inning. Michael Gonzalez had an uneven spring, but he avoided any prolonged injuries, which is very important. He'll start the season as the club's top lefty specialist. That leaves Kevin Gregg and Koji Uehara as Showalter's top two options to close. Gregg had some tough outings this spring, but when he got his mechanics in order the past couple of appearances, he was effective. Uehara pitched in only three big league spring training games because of some elbow soreness. I felt coming into the spring that Gregg had the slight lead over Uehara to fill the closer's role, and I'm not sure anything has changed to alter that. However, it also wouldn't surprise me at all if Uehara is the guy warming up in the top of the ninth inning Friday if the Orioles have a one-run lead. With David Price on the mound for the Rays, I'm sure Showalter would love to be forced into making that decision.