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Baltimore Orioles

Orioles working backward with power arms Castro, Scott, Liranzo to find viable starters

With their rotation proving so frustrating this year — and three-fifths of it heading for free agency this offseason — the Orioles are already looking at some unique options to bring along as starters long term.

And they're going the opposite way from the traditional method of developing starting pitching to do it.

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When asked Wednesday about the future of right-hander Miguel Castro, Orioles manager Buck Showalter pointed to the team's rationale for taking some of the top relief arms in the system — Castro, left-hander Tanner Scott and right-hander Jesus Liranzo — and working them as starters both now and in the future.

It's as much about pitch development as anything else, but the lack of starting pitching options emerging in the high minors with so many immediate vacancies has the Orioles looking in an interesting place.

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"We're so quick to pigeonhole those guys as relievers?" Showalter asked. "Why isn't Tanner Scott potentially a starter? Why isn't Liranzo possibly a starter? Just because they have a plus-plus fastball and a plus breaking ball and they haven't grasped a changeup yet, we're just going to say the heck with it and stick them down in the bullpen? I'm sure you've noticed, there's a need for starting pitching in the big leagues — and a few other places."

Each represents a different case, but the context for why the club is doing all this is just as important as the individual circumstances. Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jiménez are in the final year of their contracts, while Wade Miley has a $12 million option the team must decide whether to exercise.

That leaves Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman in the rotation for 2018, with a lot of question marks. Any trade involving one of the Orioles' high-end relievers, provided they pursue that path, should net a near-ready starter, given the state of the system.

The reinforcements at Triple-A aren't inspiring a lot of confidence for next year. Left-hander Jayson Aquino has made two strong spot starts for the major league club, and his 4.58 ERA with Norfolk is the best among the affiliate's full-time starters. Left-hander Chris Lee has a 6.21 ERA with poor peripherals. Right-hander Gabriel Ynoa (7.14 ERA), too, has wasted a promising spring with a sour season. Others, such as Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson and Alec Asher, are known commodities.

At Double-A Bowie, David Hess is having a good month in a bounce-back season and Lucas Long has succeeded in any role, but the focus has largely been on the power arms.

In terms of sheer arm talent, the trio of Scott, Castro and Liranzo are certainly a cut above everyone else in the system. Castro, it seems, will remain in the Orioles bullpen for now, where the 22-year-old has a 3.32 ERA.

Showalter said that's a "next spring thing," but one they were monitoring. The manager has been plenty impressed with Castro on and off the field this year.

"I wouldn't take out of the realm of him starting," Showalter said. "It depends on how the changeup progresses. I'm sure you've been watching; he's got a pretty good changeup. That was the pitch, when they brought him to the big leagues out of A-ball, that was one of his out-pitches."

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Scott, 22, had been on a program of throwing three-inning starts every five days with a bullpen session in between. Seen as a future back-end bullpen piece because of a fastball that regularly sits in the high 90s, the schedule was made so he could work on his slider, which scouts say has the potential to be well above average.

But Scott pitched into the fourth inning Monday in his first start of the second half of the season, and Showalter said the Orioles are extending his outings to add a changeup to his repertoire.

"It's a nice little program," Showalter said. "It lets us go either way and gets their inning count up. Especially those guys. I know Tanner broke out a changeup, they're trying to get that extra inning, They're trying to get that third pitch there."

Same goes for Liranzo, who is on the 40-man roster. The 22-year-old was wild out of the bullpen but has made some improvement on the new program. He has made six starts entering Thursday, going his maximum three innings in five and dropping his walks per nine from 6.7 as a reliever to 4.5 as a starter.

In a system that has drafted pitchers well the past couple of years but is still largely lacking in the high minors, the combination of next year's possible rotation gap and the paucity of options means however unconventional, the Orioles are trying to build themselves some options.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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