Tampa — Even with the addition of Alex Cobb to their starting rotation, the Orioles’ battle for the fifth and final starting rotation spot remains relevant going into the final days of spring training.
Cobb won’t be ready for Opening Day, so the Orioles will still need a fifth starter to open the season, giving Wednesday night’s Grapefruit League game against the New York Yankees significance.
Right-hander Miguel Castro struggled in his final Grapefruit League outing, allowing five runs (four earned) over three innings in Wednesday’s 9-4 loss at Steinbrenner Field. Castro could pitch again in Monday’s exhibition game at Triple-A Norfolk.
“I felt well despite the results,” Castro said through translator Ramón Alarcón. “I thought I was trying to make good pitches. Some pitches I thought were in the zone, but the umpire thought otherwise, so I was just trying to compete out there.”
Castro’s rocky outing was his second straight against the Yankees. He allowed four runs on four hits over 3 2/3 innings against New York at home last Wednesday.
In both outings, poor command hurt Castro. He fell behind 5-1 in the second inning Wednesday after allowing nine of the first 15 batters to reach base, including three walks.
“Stuff is fine,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Command has been a challenge off and on for him like a lot of guys. [He’s] kind of searching for that. A lot of guys you’ll see in a little bit more of a comfort zone once they get settled into where they’re going to be regardless of where it is. You see a lot of anxiety this time of year. You try to keep that in mind.”
Regardless of who wins the fifth spot — another candidate, left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr., threw three scoreless innings in relief before allowing a three-run homer to Aaron Judge in his fourth inning in his final Grapefruit League outing — his opportunity could be short-lived when Cobb is finished building his innings count.
Though the addition of Cobb could affect Castro’s future, Castro said the addition makes the Orioles a better team.
“I feel good because I see it as an opportunity for the team to continue to compete to be in the hunt, that the team wants to compete and wants to win,” he said. “I feel good for my team.”
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When the Orioles continued transitioning Castro into a starting role when spring training began, it was in part because the team needed three starting pitchers. But with the addition of Cobb, Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman, Castro is among those on the outside looking in, at least once Cobb is ready to join the major league rotation.
Showalter said after Wednesday’s game that once Cobb is ready, Castro would either be sent to Triple-A to continue to work as a starter or could return to the bullpen, where he filled a valuable multi-inning relief role for the Orioles last year.
On Wednesday, Castro struggled against a formidable Yankees lineup, pitching around Judge. He walked Judge twice, missing low as he refused to give the slugger one of his mid-90s fastballs up in the zone. Judge scored both times.
After loading the bases with two outs in the first inning, Castro allowed a two-out, two-run double to Didi Gregorius. The following inning, Greg Bird’s one-out single up the middle plated two more, and Tim Beckham’s throwing error off a groundball by Gary Sánchez made the score 5-1.
After that error, Castro retired the final four batters he faced.
Through four Grapefruit League outings, Castro has an 8.38 ERA in 11 2/3 innings. He has walked eight over his past three appearances, spanning 9 2/3 innings.
“I think I’ve been a little bit inconsistent command-wise,” Castro said. “That’s one of the things I’m working on and will continue to work on so that I can help my team. As a pitcher, I know I will have ups and downs. But I just try to concentrate on the good stuff and keep improving day by day.”