One of the main competitions – really, one of the only competitions – in Orioles spring training this year is for the fifth starter's role.
A whole lot of names have been thrown into the mix: Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, Brian Matusz, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hunter and T.J. McFarland.
Hunter, in particular (and Matusz, potentially) is earmarked for the bullpen. McFarland, a Rule 5 pick, may have to be offered back to the Cleveland Indians because he doesn't look like he'll make the rotation. His only legitimate shot to make the Orioles is in the bullpen – and that likely would happen only if Hunter were traded, Matusz won the fifth starter's race or if there were an injury to someone on the projected staff.
Jurrjens has probably fallen behind Arrieta, Britton, Johnson and Matusz, but he does have experience and an All Star nod on his resume.
I still believe it is Arrieta's spot to lose, but he's going to have to pitch well for the next two weeks. Because, frankly, everyone in the group is acquitting themselves well.
"I see guys trying to present themselves as being guys that can help us win games, the team. I definitely don't see anybody pulling against [one another]. They're just taking care of their business when it's their day to pitch," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I'm glad that they haven't really separated in a lot of people's minds. We've got some private thoughts about where it is right now, but we've got a lot more looks. But it's not just going to be a purely spring training statistical evaluation."
Here are the ERAs for the candidates: Johnson, 2.00; Britton, 2.08; Arrieta, 2.38; Matusz, 2.70; Hunter, 2.70; McFarland, 4.15; Jurrjens 7.27.
Perhaps more telling, the four guys really in the competition – Johnson, Britton, Arrieta and Matusz – have combined for 16 1/3 scoreless innings in each of their last outings.
Johnson, who threw four scoreless innings Sunday, said there is no question that the competition pushes everyone in a good way.
"It definitely does. You saw it at the end of last year how every start out there someone had to get the job done or they were going to find someone else to do it for the next time around," Johnson said. "Every time out was like, 'To Be Announced.' And I think that puts a little pressure on you and kind of makes you perform a little better. It's a lot of fun going out there with so much on the line. It's definitely good to get those zeros."
The strangest part is that most of these guys have been teammates throughout the minors and majors. They are good friends, and one is going to have to beat out the others.
"It's a weird situation, to be honest with you, because you're friends with the guys and you want everyone to do well. You don't want anyone to go out there and put up an eight-spot, even if it may help you," Johnson said. "It's a weird situation because you want everyone to go out there and have a good outing. When they come in, you say, 'Way to deal.' You're rooting for everybody and doing what you can control and then putting it into the coaches hands. I can't affect Jake's outing or Britton's or Jurrjens'. I'm going out there and doing what I can do, and Buck and Dan will decide."