VIERA, Fla. -Orioles manager Dave Trembley has said repeatedly that he wants his pitchers to make his roster decisions as tough as possible this spring. However, with the way things are going, the Orioles' 2009 rotation might be filled by default.
Left-hander Rich Hill, a front-runner for one of three vacant spots in the Opening Day rotation, was scratched from making yesterday's start against the Washington Nationals because of forearm and elbow stiffness. Though team officials are optimistic Hill's injury isn't serious, he became the third prospective rotation member to be sidelined this spring, joining Brad Hennessey and John Parrish.
Orioles president Andy MacPhail said he isn't overly concerned, but the team signed veteran Adam Eaton yesterday to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. Eaton, 31, a right-hander, was released by the Philadelphia Phillies last week after two disappointing seasons and is expected to join the team Wednesday.
"We're pleased," MacPhail said. "It's an opportunity to add a veteran starter. Last year, he had 19 starts, 10 of which were quality starts. It's something that's appealing to us. It represents a low-risk opportunity to have a veteran that we can evaluate to see if it makes sense to us going forward."
Eaton is 68-63 with a 4.80 ERA over parts of nine seasons, but went just 14-18 with a 6.10 ERA with the Phillies, who gave him an ill-fated three-year, $24.5 million deal. That Eaton could be had for the $400,000 minimum - the Phillies are on the hook for the rest of his salary - made the signing a no-brainer for the Orioles, who are likely to let the pitcher go if he is not on the Opening Day roster and another team is interested.
MacPhail said he was prepared to fill the rotation behind Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara from within, and signing Eaton had nothing to do with the injuries to Hennessey, Parrish and Hill.
"These conversations [about Eaton] had started long before the unavailability of those three," MacPhail said. "I don't think the three's unavailability is any type of long-term issue for us. I don't think that was the case for us. It was a player that came available to us sooner than we expected. This way, we get a chance to evaluate him on our own."
Hennessey was removed from his start last week with a sore right elbow and has been tentatively shut down after getting a cortisone shot. Parrish still hasn't pitched because of shoulder tendinitis, and Trembley said he is a "ways away" from getting onto the mound in a Grapefruit League game.
"I would be concerned if this were around the middle of March," Trembley said. "But like anything else, it's going to allow us to look at [David] Pauley, [Brad] Bergesen, Hayden Penn. Those guys are going to get the opportunity to pitch. We'll get those guys stretched out."
Adding to the Orioles' injury woes is the fact that Danys Baez and Troy Patton, who missed all last season after having arm surgeries, are restricted, and the club is being cautious with Matt Albers, who is pitching with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The other rotation candidates include Bergesen, Mark Hendrickson, Radhames Liz, Penn and Chris Waters.
The Orioles acquired Hill from the Chicago Cubs this offseason for future considerations, and Trembley has said Hill would have to pitch his way out of a rotation spot this spring. Hill, who struggled mightily with his control last year, has made progress in bullpen sessions in working with pitching coach Rick Kranitz, and team officials were looking forward to seeing him in a game.
Instead, Hill spent yesterday in the training room and getting looked at by team orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens. Trembley said the left-hander wanted to pitch, but the club decided to be cautious with the pitcher who dealt with back and shoulder issues last year. He will pitch in tomorrow's intrasquad game, assuming he's healthy. Pauley got yesterday's start instead and pitched three solid innings.
"I don't think anyone is remotely concerned," MacPhail said. "I know [head athletic trainer Richie Bancells] wasn't overly concerned yesterday, but if there's any issue, why bother? It's March 1. We don't leave here for another month."