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Assessing the Orioles' options for the fifth starter to begin the season

Jon Meolii reports that Orioles pitcher, Mike Wright will be the fourth starter at the start of this season and Tyler Wilson will be making the pitching staff. The fifth starter will be announced at a later time. (Jon Meoli, Baltimore Sun video)

All that's left to be settled now publicly in terms of the Orioles' pitching staff is who will serve as the fifth starter when the team first needs one on April 10, though we have some idea of who the candidates are.

There seem to be three players who through manager Buck Showalter's usage and his words, are in the mix to be the fifth starter (if they don't try to find one from outside the organization): Tyler Wilson, Vance Worley, and T.J. McFarland.

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Wilson, of the whole group, probably had the best statistical spring. He wrapped up camp with a 2.60 ERA after allowing one run on three hits in three innings of relief Thursday against the Atlanta Braves. Wilson also nearly went the whole spring — 17 1/3 innings — without issuing a walk, but allowed one Thursday. He struck out 10 with a WHIP of 1.10 in the Grapefruit League.

Three of his seven appearances were starts, though those were early in camp. More recently, he's been working on shorter rest and throwing multiple innings to see how his body reacts to it, indicating he may be on track to be a long reliever.

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But he says he's capable of starting still, and Showalter said he doesn't know how Wilson will be used yet. That he's been told he's on the team is a good sign.

That will be one of the criteria to make the fifth start, Showalter said. The team's typical roster maneuvering won't suffice for the fifth starter because if they option the player they'd like to make that start, he needs to remain in the minors for 10 days unless there's an injury, and the team can't count on one of those occurring.

The next option is a bit of a wildcard in that sense: Worley. Worley is out of minor league options, meaning he has to stay on the roster or else the Orioles risk losing him through waivers.

But it's an eerie parallel to Worley's 2015 experience with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who told him he'd be a starter initially, ultimately used him as a reliever for most of the spring, then had him in the rotation to open the season.

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Worley is making a half-step toward that Friday by starting the exhibition game in Philadelphia, though it's worth noting that a touchy weather forecast earlier this week stopped Ubaldo Jimenez from traveling north to make that start.

Showalter implied anyone who needed meaningful work on that day, like Jimenez who needs to stay on schedule to start next week, wouldn't be slated for that game. Perhaps it's just a regular short session for Worley, who is confident even with mostly two-inning stints this spring that he could start if called upon.

Worley hasn't allowed an earned run in five of his seven appearances this spring, the only exceptions being his first relief outing on March 5 at Toronto (three earned runs on five hits in two innings) and his most recent start, on March 17 against the Boston Red Sox (six earned runs on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings). But in a spring when hardly an Orioles pitchers got results, that Worley more often than not did and had a 1.75 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio is as good a case as any for him.

The last candidate, McFarland, is seemingly always inserted into the major league starting picture in theory without ever making it there in reality.

Showalter has been asked over the course of camp whether McFarland is still viewed as a starting candidate, and he said he is, though the manager noted that in a potential rotation of five right-handers that a left-handed long reliever was invaluable over the course of the season.

But McFarland turned in his best and longest outing of the spring on Wednesday, pitching three innings and allowing only an unearned run on three hits, with one strikeout. He dealt with elbow issues early in the spring, but hasn't allowed an earned run in his last three appearances and went multiple innings in two of the last three outings he's made.

Last year, the Orioles began McFarland in Triple-A Norfolk to get him stretched out to possibly start at the beginning of the season. Because Wilson is already on the Opening Day roster and Worley can't be sent down, perhaps they can do that to stretch him out further this year.

In that case, whichever of Worley or Wilson doesn't make the fifth start can be the long man, and reliever Dylan Bundy, who has gone two innings in three of his last five appearances, can also provide some length to the bullpen.

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