Carroll County Times
Carroll County

O's report to spring training

With snow in the regional forecast, there couldn't be a more perfect time for the Baltimore Orioles to head south to Sarasota, Fla.

Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training Saturday and they hold their first workout today with the first full-squad session coming Friday.

The Orioles have plenty of issues to resolve before opening against the Minnesota Twins on April 6. The biggest is the pitching staff, but it's not the only one.

Here are 10 questions the team will be looking answer over the next seven weeks.

1. Who will be in the rotation?

The Orioles bring 12 starting candidates to camp with them, some of which are out of options, and some of which could end up in the bullpen. The returning pitchers, such as Brian Matusz, are ready to compete for jobs.

"Dan [Duquette] has done a great job bringing in a lot of arms," Matusz said. "It's going to make for a lot of competition this spring, which is what we need. That's what it's all about at spring training, that competition. Everyone getting together, helping each other work hard, and keep pushing each other."

2. Will Brian Roberts be ready for the opener and are the team's contingency plans good enough?

Roberts has been dealing with concussion symptoms since last May, and if he isn't able to go, that leaves a hole both at second base and in the leadoff spot.

Robert Andino did a solid job in Roberts' place last year, and Duquette brought in two former first-round picks (Matt Antonelli and Ryan Flaherty) who could also challenge for the job. But the ideal situation is Roberts feels better and reclaims his spot atop the lineup.

"We just have to have a little patience and let that play out," Duquette said. "I'm hopeful that Brian will be with us and be able to play and help the ballclub."

3. Will Nick

Markakis' abdominal surgery lead to a dip in production?

Markakis said at FanFest last month that he'll be ready for Opening Day. He should be able to follow through on that, but the injury kept the team's highest-paid player from doing much offseason training.

Former Oriole Aubrey Huff responded well to a similar ailment to have his best season with the club. But Washington's Ryan Zimmerman was severely limited after returning from abdominal surgery last year. How Markakis responds will be worth watching.

4. Who will lock down the ninth inning?

Jim Johnson finished last season in the ninth-inning role and the Orioles brought in former Houston closer Matt Lindstrom in the Jeremy Guthrie trade.

Kevin Gregg would need an outstanding spring to win the job back, but manager Buck Showalter has options.

5. Will Nolan

Reimold be able to emerge as the deserving starting left fielder?

Reimold has had an up-and-down few years with the team, but finished last season by batting .295 with six homers, 25 RBIs and six steals in his last 33 games.

If that continues, he could be back to his form from 2009, when he was viewed as a core piece of the club's future.

6. After a historically bad season, can Matusz rediscover his path to being a top-of-the-rotation starter?

In 2011, Matusz posted the highest ERA in big-league history for a pitcher with at least 10 starts in a season. Those around the club said he has had a good offseason, but whether that translates into him becoming one of the team's top pitchers again remains to be seen.

7. Will Mark

Reynolds be able to put a nightmarish defensive season behind him as he returns to third?

Reynolds committed 31 errors last season, including 26 at third base, prompting a move to first. He has had that bad of a defensive year once before (2008), and he cut his errors by a large percentage over the next two seasons. This year, he returns to third base with something to prove.

8. Can Chris

Davis finally turn outstanding Class AAA numbers into major-league production?

Davis has nothing left to prove in the minors, but he wasn't able to sustain success in the majors with the Texas Rangers. Baltimore acquired him with Tommy Hunter for Koji Uehara last July and he did well when healthy at the end of the season. He'll be given every chance to become a major-league regular this year.

9. What will come of the young pitchers who don't make the rotation? Will the likes of Matusz, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton head to the bullpen or minors if they're beat our for starting jobs?

In the recent past, the Orioles have been resistant to put young starters in relief roles. But that might change if more than five of the rotation candidates pitch their way onto the team. Class AAA Norfolk could be in store for one heck of a starting five, however.

10. Can the likes of J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters build on strong 2011 seasons?

Hardy had a career season, hitting 30 homers despite missing a month, Jones got back on track to be named Most Valuable Oriole, and Wieters took a massive leap with the bat to earn his first All-Star nod. The offense's success could depend on similar, if not better performances from all three.