With the Orioles starting pitchers struggling this spring, beat writer Jon Meoli explains that the competition to head north with the team has heated up a bit. (Jon Meoli/Baltimore Sun video)
Right-hander Tyler Wilson's relief of Chris Tillman Tuesday in the Orioles 6-6 tie with the Toronto Blue Jays led manager Buck Showalter to confirm what many observers recently began to wonder about regarding the team's starting rotation.
"There's some competition here that I don't think people understand," Showalter said.
Wilson pitched 3 1/3 innings in essentially a piggyback start behind Tillman at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin. He coaxed a fly ball to the fence that was caught to end a bases-loaded jam in the second inning, then scattered two hits and struck out two over the next three innings to make an appearance Showalter said was in line with what they expect of him.
"Tyler's a guy that's been a winning pitcher since 10th grade in high school," Showalter said. "He has a great presentation. He is confident. He's not scared of the competition. There's a lot to like about him. Sometimes he gets forgotten about, but not by us. He's a very trustworthy pitcher because you know what you're going to get."
With some struggles in the starting rotation, including two poor starts in three tries by right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, Showalter said the performance of Wilson (three earned runs allowed in 9 1/3 spring innings over four appearances) and others has made the rotation less settled than it was a month ago.
"You can't have one without the other," Showalter said. "Mike [Wright] is throwing the ball good down here and [Odrisamer] Despaigne has had a couple of good, crisp outings – not statistically, but it makes you feel better about it. We've just got to get our five guys before we leave here ready to go, and it could be Tyler Wilson."
Asked a second time whether Wilson could break camp with the team and be in the rotation, Showalter said again: "There's some competition here that people haven't grasped."
Wilson is no stranger to the majors, having made nine appearances (five starts) in the majors in 2015, with a 3.50 ERA in 36 innings pitched. He supplemented that with a 5-5 record and a 3.26 ERA in 17 starts for Triple-A Norfolk. A year earlier, he won the Orioles' organizational pitcher of the year award with a combined 14-8 with a 3.67 ERA in 28 starts between Double-A Bowie and Norfolk.
Infielders pacing road squad: Infielders Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop have made plenty of road trips with the Orioles this spring, and Showalter singled them out after Tuesday's game.
"I thought Jonathan had some patient at-bats," Showalter said. "Flaherty's had a solid spring offensively so far, with his pitch selection. I've been really proud of that. Some 0-2, 1-2 [counts] to walks have been good to watch."
Schoop had two hits with an RBI, and through 15 Grapefruit League games, leads all Orioles regulars with a .414/.433/.586 batting line. Flaherty had a hit, walked twice and scored a run to bring his spring line to .360/.500/.520 in 25 at-bats.
Around the horn: Left-hander Brian Matusz (back) said he felt good coming out of his 25-pitch bullpen session Monday, his first since the injury, but thought he'd need at least one more side session before returning to games. When asked if he thought he'd be ready for Opening Day, Matusz said he was taking his recovery day by day. … The Orioles will have three major league pitchers in various games Thursday, with Ubaldo Jimenez starting a Triple-A game, Vance Worley pitching the 1:05 p.m. split-squad game against Boston in Fort Myers, and Wright pitching that night at Ed Smith Stadium versus Minnesota.