With a pair of free-agent pitchers in Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb who represented a strong investment in their rotation and an expected year of progress from Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, the Orioles built their starting rotation — and roster in general — to accommodate the inflexibility around their roster.
They only have one relief pitcher they can option to the minor leagues — Miguel Castro — but the hope was they wouldn't need to be shuffling in long relievers to cover for short starts as often, if at all.
Through three games, one of which was five innings from Andrew Cashner and the other four from Gausman, that has been tested in a big way.
"I think because of some of the challenges we had last year, it is something, I'm sure," manager Buck Showalter said. "But I think our guys are mature enough to know that those things have a way of changing really quickly. I think between Andrew and Alex, and some of our other guys, we know that Chris [Tillman] is capable of better and we hope that starts tomorrow. We're going to hold onto the thought that [we] are going to not have situations like that as often as we did last year. The last couple days, it's been like that, though."
The Orioles certainly aren't in the right span to test out how it could work. They embark on a seven-game road trip with three games at the World Champion Houston Astros then four at the New York Yankees, with little ability to cover if things go sideways.
They have Nestor Cortes Jr., Darren O'Day, and Castro fresh for Monday's start, when Tillman looks to set his 2018 season off on a good note. Mike Wright Jr. follows on Tuesday before turning things back over to Dylan Bundy, who is coming off seven shutout innings on Opening Day.
Wright is keeping Cobb's rotation spot warm at this point, and they'll likely need to send out a reliever with an option then keep their pitching staff and bench at full strength, so bullpen moves might not be on the horizon much before then. Cobb is expected to build up to six innings in the minor leagues.
Showalter is right to believe things will turn around — the Orioles season essentially hinges on it. But with the first-month schedule they have, facing all five American League playoff teams before May, it's not exactly a good time to ease into it.