Carroll County Times

Analysis: Pitching decisions looming for Orioles

Tommy Hunter hasn't been getting the job done as closing pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles' starting rotation hasn't been able to pitch deep into games on a consistent basis. Some nights those starters look masterful and pitch seven innings or more, and other nights they struggle to get through six innings.


But soon enough, Baltimore will have options to perhaps fix its closer situation and improve its rotation.

"It's a tough evaluation," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said earlier this week. "You're always trying to take the best 25 as opposed to the right 25."


On Friday night, Baltimore signed reliever Heath Bell to a minor-league contract and he reported to Class-AAA Norfolk on Saturday. Bell has had success in the past at being a major-league closer.

Bell has 168 career saves in 11 seasons. In his first year as a closer, Bell collected 42 saves in 2009 for the San Diego Padres. In his next two years in San Diego, Bell had save totals of 47 and 43. But Bell has struggled more recently. He has a 4.91 ERA since the beginning of 2012. He was 1-1 with a 7.27 ERA in 13 relief appearances for Tampa Bay this season before he was released on May 11. The Orioles very well may need a new closer, though. Hunter has 11 saves in 14 chances, but has a 6.60 ERA and few of his saves have come easy.

Hunter has given up eight runs on 10 hits in his last 3 1-3 innings pitched, a stretch that includes a loss and a pair of blown saves. He has just one 1-2-3 inning this season, and that was in a non-save situation on April 26.

"He's had his moments where he pitched really well," Showalter said.

But that hasn't been in save situations.

As for the Orioles' starting rotation, it has been much improved in May. Ubaldo Jimenez went 0-4 with a 6.59 ERA in five April starts. This month, he is 2-0 with a 0.46 ERA in three starts.

Ace Chris Tillman had one of the best starts for Baltimore so far this season on Friday night, pitching a complete-game shutout against Kansas City. Entering Saturday's game, the Orioles ranked third in the American League for team ERA in May (3.13).

However, there might not be much room for error for any of the Orioles' starters, particularly Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris. Eventually, Kevin Gausman, the organization's No. 2 prospect, will be in the rotation. Gausman was in Baltimore for the first time this season this past week, getting a spot start against Detroit. He took the loss after giving up five runs on six hits in four innings.


Also, Dylan Bundy, the Orioles' No. 1 prospect, continues to recover from Tommy John surgery. There may be a chance that he pitches well enough to be in the majors at some point this season.

Johan Santana could also potentially help Baltimore later this season. He hasn't pitched in the majors since 2012, but he pitched his third extended spring training game this week. Santana is nearing an assignment with a minor-league affiliate, but he can opt out of his contract if he's not in the majors by May 30.

"I don't worry about how it is going to fit," Showalter said. "We've had some tough calls on personnel this year, but not necessarily with pitchers, but I think we're getting ready to head down that road before long if we stay healthy, and that's a good thing."