xml:space="preserve">

Despite the Orioles’ moves to address their starting pitching problems during spring training, the past few days served as a reminder that there are still many unanswered questions in terms of this team’s rotation.

Andrew Cashner yielded three home runs in his Orioles debut. Kevin Gausman lasted four innings in his first start. Chris Tillman also failed to get an out in the fifth in Monday’s series-opening loss in Houston.

Advertisement

Now, right-hander Mike Wright Jr. takes the mound Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.

Wright emerged from the team’s spring training competition for the fifth starter job, beating out right-hander Miguel Castro and Rule 5 left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. Wright will hold the spot until right-hander Alex Cobb is ready to join the rotation, which could be as soon as Monday. Wright would receive one more turn in the rotation Sunday, and then his spot would likely go to Cobb.

“I think he deserves the opportunity,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He had a pretty good spring. I don’t even know statistically, like all of our guys, but I think Mike’s earned that right. Right now, Miguel helps us in the bullpen with [closer] Zach [Britton] out and we think trying to break in [two] Rule 5 guys. And looking at the matchup with these guys, we think that Nestor, we just want to get him off right and understand where he is in his appearance level and try to push him forward without going from zero to 100 right away.”

Wright’s time in the rotation might be short-lived, but his outings will be important in dictating his role on the pitching staff moving forward — whether he can fill a late-inning role or be an option in long relief.

Once Cobb enters the rotation, Wright – who can’t be sent to the minors without clearing waivers because he’s out of options – would likely go to the bullpen. But the odd man out on the pitching staff is unclear.

The Orioles could face some difficult bullpen decisions soon, especially if their string of short starts continues. The team is carrying two Rule 5 draft picks that can’t be optioned to the minors, Cortes and right-hander Pedro Araujo. Both debuted Saturday, with Cortes allowing one run over two innings and Araujo throwing a scoreless frame. The following day, Araujo threw 1 2/3 innings, his first multi-inning outing after eight of his nine spring appearances lasted exactly one inning.

Right now, the team’s desire to make Castro a starter – a goal that was more pressing before the Orioles signed Cashner, Tillman and Cobb during spring training – has taken a back seat to the need for middle relief, especially with Britton out, which pushes each of the team’s late-inning relievers back a frame.

Castro was a game-changer in that role last season, and he was needed to fill it Monday after Tillman’s early exit. He allowed one run in two innings of relief, striking out three and walking one.

Entering the season, Castro was the likeliest relievers to be sent to the minors, because he’s one of the few members of the bullpen with a minor league option – Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier also have options, but are critical pieces – but also because he could go to Triple-A and be stretched out for a starting role.

However, if the Orioles’ early-season starting pitching performances are any indication, Castro might have greater value as the multi-inning middle-relief bridge he was last season — at least until the Orioles get the Rule 5 picks’ feet wet in those roles.

Wright’s venture as a reliever last year produced mixed results. He had a 5.76 ERA in 25 relief innings, mostly pitching in a multi-inning middle-relief role. But he struggled limiting the damage at times, and the biggest goal of a middle reliever is keeping a game close.

Wright showed signs of growth this spring, most importantly embracing his secondary stuff when he ran into trouble instead of forcing his fastball. If he can carry that over into the regular season, and see results in the process, it could make the decision-making process a lot easier.

“Alex is going to join us before long and I’m hoping that Mike pitches real well and we’re looking for a way to continue to take advantage of what he’s doing,” Showalter said. “The good news for us is if he pitches well, it’s a good thing all around, right?

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement