FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -The most important issue facing the Orioles this spring is the makeup of the starting rotation, and the latest news is not encouraging:
The club has removed right-hander Matt Albers from consideration for one of the three open slots, and right-hander David Pauley allowed nine base runners in three innings in yesterday's 4-3 exhibition loss to the Minnesota Twins at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.
That was just yesterday's rotation revelations. The day before, Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara was pushed back at least a few days with a hamstring strain and manager Dave Trembley conceded it would be hard for projected No. 3 starter Rich Hill to rebound from early spring elbow soreness and start the season on time. Two days before that, Trembley announced that Brad Hennessey and John Parrish were too far behind the other starters to have any hope of breaking camp among the top five starters on the roster.
The Orioles opened camp with 37 candidates for the pitching staff, but that number has been falling faster than the Dow Jones industrial index. The last time anybody looked, there wasn't a single healthy pitcher in camp who is certain to be in the starting rotation on Opening Day. I'm stretching a point, because Jeremy Guthrie is playing in the World Baseball Classic and Uehara will be back in plenty of time, but the regular season starts in little more than three weeks and each day there seems to be more uncertainty instead of less.
So, you might think the Orioles would be interested in somebody like Pedro Martinez, who looked pretty good in a brief WBC appearance and pitched decently against the Orioles in an exhibition game last week. But you would be wrong.
Orioles president Andy MacPhail said after the game that the team has no intention of contacting Martinez's representatives. The Orioles have brought in a veteran pitcher in Adam Eaton, who has yet to make a competitive appearance, and MacPhail seems willing to gut out a few sore arms to get a long read on the organizational pitching situation.
"Obviously, our pro scouts are out in other camps, looking at other pitchers," MacPhail said, "but we would have to think it is a meaningful upgrade."
He would not comment specifically on Martinez, but it's obvious he has little interest in an aging pitcher who is angling for at least $5 million in guaranteed money and a few million on top of that in incentives. Eaton was attractive because he is younger and the Philadelphia Phillies are on the hook for all but $400,000 of his contract.
MacPhail did say over the weekend that the club had had internal discussions about the possibility of adding Martinez but indicated no contact had been made and it was not a real option.
That does not mean the Orioles don't think Martinez can still pitch. To the contrary, the hitters who faced him during the exhibition game against the Dominican team were impressed.
"He's still got good stuff," center fielder Adam Jones said. "He can't throw 99 [mph] like he used to, but he's still got good stuff. He looks more determined."
Jones does not have a lot of experience with Martinez, but Aubrey Huff has seen him more than he would care to remember. He didn't see the same guy who used to dominate hitters with his fastball and keep them off balance with his aggressive nature on the mound, but he did see a guy who could still pitch.
"It's spring training," Huff said, "but he was getting it up there pretty good. He's still got a pretty good arm. I saw some [WBC] highlights the other day, and he was blowing some guys away."
Catcher Gregg Zaun was more skeptical about how much Martinez has left in the tank but said he feels having an accomplished pitcher like Martinez in the clubhouse would be a benefit to the young Orioles.
"Yes, he could help," Zaun said. "He'll be able to pitch, whether or not he can regain a noticeable amount of zip on his fastball. He'd provide a nice veteran presence and be a tremendous role model for the young players, especially the Latin players."
Perhaps the strongest endorsement came from second baseman Brian Roberts.
"Pedro will always be able to pitch," he said. "Obviously, he's not going to throw 96 again, but he's still Pedro."
So, would it be a crazy idea to add him to an Orioles staff that is short on healthy bodies and experience?
"No," Roberts said. "I said when he was pitching against us, 'If he was healthy, I'd take him.' "
Listen to Peter Schmuck from spring training every weeknight at 6 on WBAL (1090 AM).