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Orioles' Brandon Hyde open to concept of 'opener,' but club has plenty to weigh on rotation front before deciding

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde is a long way from deciding what the back-end of his rotation will look like, or how frequently the shuttle between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk will run this season.

He is, however, at least open to the idea of adopting the "opener" strategy popularized by the Tampa Bay Rays — Tuesday's opponent at Ed Smith Stadium — and using a pitcher for a few batters at the beginning of the game to set up a stretched-out pitcher behind him.

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"What they did last year [in Tampa Bay] with it, they had a bunch of good arms with options that kind of went out of the box and did the opener and did different things," Hyde said. "I think clubs are more open to being creative in that sense, since you saw some teams have success with it.

"I think an ideal situation is you want to have five starters, five healthy starters, and you roll with it with some depth. But not every club is built like that. I think this spring, we're going to kind of see what our back-end of our rotation kind of looks like, see the arms that we have, then evaluate it from there."

Hyde, who came from the Chicago Cubs and never saw the strategy used in-person while serving as Joe Maddon's bench coach, said he's "looking forward to seeing it," even if it wouldn't be something he sat down with executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias or pitching coach Doug Brocail about until a few weeks into spring training games.

"I'm open to anything to help you win a game, and obviously, teams had success with it, so I would be open to being creative like that and giving us a chance to win," Hyde said.

Last year, the Orioles were forced into starting relievers — including Evan Phillips and Ryan Meisinger — not as a means to compete but to simply survive a September pitching shortage. It was something the Rays used effectively against Buck Showalter's men, though, and helped the Rays to outperform expectations and win 90 games.

Whether it would be the best fit for the Orioles is something that will be determined by not only how this spring goes for their glut of back-end starter candidates, but what the team's ultimate ambitions are.

Nate Karns is in the veteran middle ground between established starters Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, and Dylan Bundy and the group of un-established talent as the fourth starter.

The group of pitchers staking claims to possible rotation spots on the 40-man roster include David Hess, Yefry Ramirez, Mike Wright, Jimmy Yacabonis, Josh Rogers, John Means, Luis Ortiz, Hunter Harvey, and Dillon Tate. They all have varying amounts of major league experience, with none for Harvey and Tate, and all but Wright has minor league options remaining.

That would create a situation where they could shuffle players up and down from Norfolk and use them in a variety of roles, but for a team that just wants this cast of players to get better this year, it's unclear whether the developmental hurdles that come with such uncertainty are worth a few extra wins at the major league level.

To that point, it would be on Elias, Hyde, and company to decide what they want this season to look like. Elias has said the primary mission of the organization would be to overhaul player development, scouting, and international player acquisition until the talent level was sufficient to maximize major league wins.

Part of that equation will be high draft picks to bring premium talent into the organization, and using a strategy that was so clearly deployed by the likes of the Rays, the Oakland Athletics, and Milwaukee Brewers to maximize wins on a given day could be the difference between picking first or picking fifth. That simply might not fit with the organization’s plan.

Hyde has repeated throughout the offseason and the spring that he wants the players to compete and play aggressive baseball, with the idea that that will naturally lead to better play and more victories than the 47 the Orioles collected last year.

He has also come up under the tutelage of Maddon, whom he said Tuesday is "unbelievably creative," and doesn't want to rule out anything that can help the Orioles win now or in the future.

Five starters for an entire season is still the ideal, but it's one that doesn't happen often in a six-month baseball season.

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"I think that the game is moving in a direction where people are being more creative and are being open to newer ideas and not being set in certain things, but by having players versatile and bullpens versatile and possibly rotations versatile," Hyde said. "When it comes to being able to match up well against another club, I just think the traditional way isn't — I think every club is different now, so I think teams are just more open to trying new things."

Bleier, Cobb go live

Right-hander Alex Cobb and left-hander Richard Bleier had another round of live batting practice Tuesday morning.

Hyde said Cobb would slot into the Grapefruit League rotation later this week, while Bleier will likely have another session on the back fields before going into a game.

“I think you can realistically see him within six, seven days,” Hyde said.

Around the horn

Hyde said right-hander Gregory Infante (illness) is nearing the point where he can come to the United States from his native Venezuela to continue his treatment, while the arrival of catcher Jesús Sucre (visa) from there isn’t imminent. … Left-hander Chris Lee didn’t pitch in Monday’s game as scheduled due to illness, Hyde said. … Right-hander Dean Kremer (oblique) is progressing well but “still going to be a while,” Hyde said, while right-hander Zach Pop (soreness) will ramp back up in the next day or two after diminished arm strength in his first outing Saturday.

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