Carroll County Times

Up in arms: 12 Orioles pitchers to vie for five starting spots

As recently as the beginning of last season, few would've expected that the Baltimore Orioles' 2012 rotation could have just two spots available for the once-heralded crop of Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman.

Yet, less than a week away from spring training, that's the situation executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has created.

Duquette has spent much of his first offseason with the club addressing its pitching depth, and the Orioles are poised to head to spring training with at least 12 candidates for their rotation.

Of course, there are only five spots available, so that'll leave more than half of that group in the bullpen, minors or out of the organization.

Joining the four youngsters in the competition are three returning pitchers (Brad Bergesen, Tommy Hunter and Alfredo Simon), four new additions (Wei-Yin Chen, Dana Eveland, Jason Hammel and Tsuyoshi Wada), and a non-roster invitee (Armando Galarraga).

In looking to find consistent innings from the rotation, to deepen the bullpen and to let younger options continue to develop at Class AAA, Duquette said that he felt it would be better to bring a large number of starting pitchers to big-league camp.

"My goal was to get some more pitching depth so we would be stronger and then try to do the right thing in spring training, the thing that gives us the strongest chance to win," Duquette said. "I don't know how that's going to shake out, but I do like the stuff of several pitchers that we've added to the team this year."

Arrieta views the competition as a good thing.

"I think it's going to bring the best out of the guys. I'm all for it," he said. "You usually don't end the season with the same five guys that started in the rotation.

"So guys are going to get their opportunities to pitch well. It'll be interesting."

The group of newcomers pushing to start is highlighted by the pair of imports from Japan - left-handers Chen and Wada.

At age 26, the Taiwanese Chen is uncharacteristically young for pitchers who come overseas. In four seasons with Chunichi, he went 36-30 with a 2.48 ERA in 117 games (88 starts).

Wada, who turns 31 on Feb. 21, went 57-36 with a 2.88 ERA in five seasons with Softbank. Last season, he went 16-5 with a 1.51 ERA in 26 games.

Although they both have minor-league options, they are expected to make the 25-man roster. Chen is among the pitchers considered likely locks for the rotation while Wada could end up starting or relieving.

"Wada's got a plus changeup," pitching coach Rick Adair said. "Chen has good fastball command and has good stuff, so we're excited about having them."

Eveland, 28, had a strong September with the Los Angeles Dodgers, going 3-2 with a 3.03 ERA in five starts after spending most of the year in the minors. The left-hander could end up a long reliever if he doesn't win a starting job.

Hammel, 29, is the most recent addition as one of two pitchers acquired from the Colorado Rockies for Jeremy Guthrie. The right-hander pitched at least 170 innings in each of the last three seasons and Duquette expects him to replace Guthrie's innings in the rotation.

Galarraga, 30, best known for coming within an out of a perfect game in 2010, could provide experienced starting depth in the minors unless he's the surprise of the spring.

In five major-league seasons, he is 26-30 with a 4.69 ERA. But last year, he went 3-4 with a 5.91 ERA in eight starts with the Arizona Diamondbacks and did even worse in five starts at Class AAA.

As for the returning pitchers, Arrieta, Britton and Hunter appear to be the leaders in the race for the rotation. Matusz could complicate things if he regains his pre-2011 form. He went 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA last year and said the best thing he can do is learn from it and flush it.

"I don't even know what happened last year," Matusz joked. "I'm throwing well."

While Duquette and manager Buck Showalter haven't given any hints as to who are candidates to start Opening Day, Arrieta and Britton seem like top options to do so.

Arrieta, who turns 26 next month, went 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA in 22 starts last year before sitting out the final two months because of elbow surgery. The right-hander believes he has a chance to perform better now that the procedure has been completed.

"Having a ping pong ball-sized bone spur taken out of my elbow is really going to relieve a lot of pain and a lot of stress," Arrieta said. "I'm just really looking forward to starting the season healthy and hopefully I finish it that way.

"I think mentally knowing that it's not in my elbow anymore, I'm going to be a better pitcher."

Britton, 24, feels confident in his chances after being perhaps the only returning pitcher who had to earn a job last spring, and succeeded when Matusz strained a ribcage muscle.

"I was competing against everybody," Britton said. "I went in there like, 'I don't care if these guys are locked down already. I'm going to bump somebody out.'

"I know what it's like to compete for a spot, so I think have a little edge on some people already."

Hunter, 25, was acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Koji Uehara deal at last year's trade deadline, and also seems to be a likely fit for the rotation because of the team's need for innings-eaters.

Tillman, 23, Bergesen, 26, and Simon, 30, are on the fringes of the competition and all three will also be in the mix for the bullpen.

Tillman was once considered the Orioles' top pitching prospect, Bergesen was the team's best pitcher in 2009, and Simon pitched well at times each of the last two years.

Duquette doesn't seem bothered that some of the younger homegrown pitchers might be on the outside of the rotation or not on the active roster at all.

"I think that overall, we've rushed some pitchers to the big leagues here in the past and I think that was reflected in some of the rough patches that the pitchers hit in the big leagues," he said. "The reason they were put in the big leagues was because the need was there.

"But frankly, I think it's better to spend a little bit more times in the minors and let the pitchers acquire the skills that it takes to be major leaguers. A 5.00 ERA is not good enough to be a competitive major-league pitcher and we've got a number of pitchers that were on the roster in that area."

Adair doesn't view the large pool of starting candidates as more work for the coaching staff. He expressed the belief that the pitchers will make the decisions easier in the spring.

"You never decide the starting five. They decide," Adair said. "The players will decide what happens. It's fun to be a part of all that. We think we have some very viable options to go out and be competitive in this division."