JUPITER, FLA. -- Orioles officials have spent part of the spring boasting about their improved depth, which has given manager Sam Perlozzo more options and harder decisions on his roster makeup.
He made a couple of those decisions yesterday, informing infielder Brandon Fahey and reliever Kurt Birkins, who played key roles for him last season, that they won't be on the Orioles' Opening Day roster.
Top pitching prospect Hayden Penn was also optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, while pitchers Jon Leicester and Rob Bell were reassigned to minor league camp. Sendy Rleal, who started last season in the Orioles' bullpen, was also sent to minor league camp to continue rehabilitation of his sore right elbow.
The moves leave the Orioles with 40 players still in camp, but still leave unresolved the questions of whether Perlozzo will go with 12 or 13 pitchers or who, if anyone, will get the last spot on the team's bench.
"I don't know if we are leaning one way or the other right now," Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said. "I think that's an option we have talked about a lot more in the last week or so. We'll see how the remaining couple of games play out and we'll make a final decision. ... We have to have the roster in by 3 o'clock Sunday, so maybe by 2:59 we'll let you guys know."
None of the cuts was a huge surprise, though Bell, a nonroster player, pitched his way into serious contention for the long-relief spot by giving up only one run and four hits in 11 innings. His departure all but cements a long-reliever slot for Jeremy Guthrie, who pitched another scoreless inning yesterday.
Penn was considered for that spot, but ultimately the club decided it would be more beneficial for the 22-year-old to be starting at Triple-A Norfolk.
"It kind of is," Penn said when asked if it is hard to stay positive. "I thought, for the second straight year, that I did pretty well in the spring. It didn't really seem like it mattered too much, but at the same time, there are a lot of guys throwing well."
Penn had an eventful spring. His first appearance was delayed after he sprained his ankle while walking down the steps at the team hotel. His first start was postponed after he arrived at the game late because of a mix-up with his equipment bag. Overall, he pitched well, going 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings, but apparently not good enough.
"Not to take someone's job," Perlozzo said. "If he would have wowed us, we seriously would have considered [keeping him]. ... He needs to go down and pitch. Spots are pretty much set up here. For anybody who is trying to make the club to come in, you have to be better than just OK. I kind of told that to Hayden. I understand he is disappointed because he wanted to make the club. But he is still a young man, still working on his trade. We still love him to death. He's got to pitch a little better than OK, that's all."
Duquette said though it wasn't a disciplinary move, several factors came into play when cutting Penn, including his poor performance last season, when he went 0-4 with a 15.10 ERA in six starts.
"We could have sent him out after that whole [late] incident, but I think the right thing to do was to fine him ... and bump him from a start and keep an open mind going forward," Duquette said. "It's a numbers game at this point. I don't think it was anything he did or didn't do. Overall, he pitched well in a camp where a lot of pitchers pitched well. You still have in the back of your mind how he pitched up here in September and you feel maybe he needs a little more time down in Triple-A."
The Orioles used Birkins, a starter, as a situational left-handed relief specialist last season, and he fared pretty well, going 5-2 with a 4.94 ERA. However, the signing of Jamie Walker and the return of John Parrish, who struck out the side in the ninth yesterday in the Orioles' 6-5 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals and has emerged as the favorite to make the team if the Orioles keep 13 pitchers, made Birkins expendable. The club plans to use the 26-year-old as a starter at Norfolk.
Because of injuries on the Orioles last season, Fahey, a natural shortstop, played 53 games in left field, one in right field, 17 at shortstop, 13 at second base and one at third base. He started strong, but finished with a .235 average with two home runs and 23 RBIs.
Perlozzo and Duquette said they still think Fahey has a future as an everyday player and he'd be better off playing regularly at Norfolk than spending long stretches on the bench as the Orioles' utility man. It also didn't help that Fahey hit just .077 this spring.
"If I was a coach and one of the guys hit like I did, I wouldn't keep him either," Fahey said.
The move leaves Freddie Bynum, Jason Dubois and Adam Stern as the finalists for the last spot on the bench if Perlozzo decides to keep another position player. However, there remains a decent chance the Orioles will use a three-man bench in favor of 13 pitchers.
If they go in that direction, it would seem to suggest there is apprehension over how many innings they are going to get from starters Jaret Wright and Steve Trachsel. Duquette said there are other concerns.
"The early part of the schedule is a factor. We don't have many off days," he said. "That's the main thing. We're really weighing whether the utility guy, early on in the season, gets much playing time, or the 13th pitcher."