The Orioles on Sunday afternoon set their Opening Day roster, which included a couple of mild surprises, and announced that Ubaldo Jimenez initially will serve as the club's fifth starter.
Like most things on a team run by Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter, this roster is subject to change — perhaps quickly.
Mount Saint Joseph graduate Steve Clevenger beat Ryan Lavarnway for the backup catcher job, but it is possible both could be in uniform when the teams are introduced at Tropicana Field for the Orioles' season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays this afternoon.
Right-handers Ryan Webb and Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia are among 14 pitchers who made the cut Sunday, but Webb's situation still seems tenuous, given his contract situation and the eyebrow-raising number of pitchers on the club's 25-man roster.
To cut down to 25 Sunday, the Orioles reassigned outfielder Nolan Reimold and Lavarnway to minor league camp — they both were signed to minor league deals — and optioned lefty T.J. McFarland to Triple-A Norfolk, where McFarland will work as a starting pitcher.
Showalter also announced in a teleconference with Baltimore news media that Jimenez will pitch Saturday at Camden Yards against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Jimenez, who posted a 4.44 ERA this spring but improved after two rough starts, had been competing for a rotation spot with 24-year-old pitcher Kevin Gausman, who will begin the season in the big league bullpen.
“I don't pay a whole lot of attention to the first start or two, but each one got better and better,” Showalter said of Jimenez. “I think he's done everything possible to present himself and get an opportunity to see if he can take it to a level he's capable of. And [Gausman] makes our bullpen better.”
Heading into today's opener, the Orioles have 11 position players — which means just two reserve hitters — on their roster. That certainly will change before Tuesday's game, when first baseman Chris Davis can be activated from the restricted list; he needs to sit out one more game to complete his 2014 suspension for testing positive for an amphetamine.
Duquette, the club's executive vice president, said a pitcher “probably” would be removed from the roster to make room for Davis. Duquette also acknowledged that this roster might not be the same one that takes the field today.
“We submitted our roster, and once you submit your roster, it is like the regular season,” Duquette said. “You can make moves any time after you get your roster submitted.”
Webb is probably the biggest surprise. He looked to be the odd man out after dealing with a knee injury this spring and then pitching to a 6.75 ERA in Grapefruit League games. But the club owes Webb $2.75 million for 2015, and because of his service time and contract, the Orioles would have to pay him that amount if they released him. According to an industry source, the Orioles put Webb through outright waivers last week, but no team claimed him.
“All of the players that are on the roster, they are expected to contribute to the team,” Duquette said when asked whether Webb's inclusion was driven by the contractual situation. “And Ryan has established himself as a quality relief pitcher with a sinker that gets out righties and lefties.”
Clevenger was probably surprise No. 2 — he hit better this spring (.275 with six RBIs in 40 at-bats) than Lavarnway (.167 with two RBIs in 36 at-bats), but Orioles management seemed to prefer Lavarnway's defense. Plus, Clevenger can be sent to the minors without passing through waivers, so he seemed like a potential addition and then subtraction when Davis returns.
The Orioles could also add another catcher from outside the organization, keeping the backup role behind Caleb Joseph fluid until Matt Wieters returns from injury.
“We've got some adjustments we can make and keep the flexibility of our roster, try to keep all the pieces we might use during the season,” Showalter said. “I think a lot of the things in the next day or two will probably give you a better idea of why we started this way at 3 o'clock [Sunday].”
Despite being a key member of the bullpen the past two years, McFarland, a former Rule 5 pick, will begin in Triple-A Norfolk's rotation. Showalter said the 25-year-old will be able to throw at least 60 to 65 pitches in his first outing.
“We all know that T.J. is going to impact us at some point this year, but to be able to give him some experience down there [is important],” Showalter said. “He'd rather be here in the big leagues, but he is excited to get the chance to start every fifth day.”
For the third time in four seasons, the Orioles will have a Rule 5 pick on their active roster. They decided to keep Garcia, a flame-throwing right-hander who hasn't pitched above Low-A and must stick with the Orioles all season or be offered back to the Boston Red Sox at half the $50,000 purchase price.
The Orioles selected two major-league Rule 5 players this December, but lost one, 24-year-old right-hander Logan Verrett, last week on a waiver claim by the Texas Rangers.
Verrett was considered more polished than Garcia, but the 22-year-old has a higher ceiling. And Garcia allowed just one earned run in 101/3 spring innings.
“You can't keep them all, but we'd rather find out about them ourselves,” Showalter said. “We made a decision that we're going to find out [about Garcia] at this level because we think there's an upside and the potential for him to be impactful. And there's only one way to find out.”
The club also placed four players on the disabled list: J.J. Hardy (shoulder), David Lough (hamstring), Wieters (elbow) and Jimmy Paredes (back). All of those moves were backdated to March 27 except for Paredes, whose stint is backdated to April 1.
Here’s the Opening Day roster:
Pitchers (14): Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Garcia, Kevin Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez, Ubaldo Jimenez, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Bud Norris, Darren O’Day, Chris Tillman, Ryan Webb and Wesley Wright
Catchers (2): Steve Clevenger and Caleb Joseph
Infielders (5): Everth Cabrera, Ryan Flaherty, Manny Machado, Steve Pearce, Jonathan Schoop
Outfielders (4): Alejandro De Aza, Adam Jones, Travis Snider, Delmon Young
Disabled list (4): J.J. Hardy, David Lough, Jimmy Paredes, Matt Wieters
Restricted list (1): Chris Davis