SARASOTA, FLA. — The Orioles are still expected to add at least one free-agent starting pitcher to a rotation mix that has just two spots filled, but until then, the club went into the opening spring training workout for pitchers and catchers Wednesday considering eight pitchers for starting spots.
Manager Buck Showalter announced that right-hander José Mesa, a 24-year-old the Orioles selected from the New York Yankees in December as the second of three Rule 5 draft picks, will compete for an Opening Day roster spot as a starting pitcher. Another Rule 5 pick, left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr., will also compete for a rotation spot.
With right-handers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman the only Orioles starters currently accounting for rotation spots, Mesa and Cortes will compete with Miguel Castro, Hunter Harvey, Mike Wright and Gabriel Ynoa for the other three positions, barring other additions. However, Harvey isn’t likely to be an Opening Day consideration as he continues to build innings after 2016 Tommy John elbow reconstruction.
Mesa, the son of the former Orioles reliever of the same name, has made just nine career starts in 78 minor league appearances, with eight of them coming last season between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. In those eight starts, Mesa allowed just one run in 35 innings. Six of his last seven appearances in 2017 were starts, and the Yankees stretched him out to just one start of more than five innings.
Mesa’s father, who ranks 18th on the major league all-time saves list with 321, served as a starter earlier in his career before he transitioned to a bullpen role.
“It’s just looking at him statistically,” Showalter said. “One of the problems is sometimes because you know who his father is and you don't know him you automatically think he’s a relief pitcher. You look at his numbers in Double-A as a starter. I think a lot of it is because the Yankees have so many quality pitching prospects that they put him in the bullpen, I guess. But his starting numbers are really worth looking at and we are going to do that.”
Showalter said the decision to look at Mesa as a starter was made before Wednesday’s workout after a discussion between Showalter, executive vice president Dan Duquette and pitching coach Roger McDowell, who agreed there would be some upside to stretching him out.
It will be difficult to hold Mesa — or Cortes for that matter — because the Orioles must still carry outfielder Anthony Santander for the first six weeks of the season for him to fulfill his Rule 5 requirements that carry over from last season. At this point, Cortes would seem to be more likely to crack the team’s Opening Day roster because he was the team’s first Rule 5 pick, is more experienced and is a left-hander.
“Because there’s a lot of guys we haven’t had before, there’s a lot of history we’re looking into,” Showalter said. “And it’s important when we’re talking to these, when you’re walking around the clubhouse or out on the field, that they know that you know about them. … It paints a picture of it.”
Showalter said there could be additional pitchers inserted into the rotation mix as camp progresses, especially with 35 pitchers in camp.
Around the horn
With 35 pitchers in camp, 16 of them threw bullpen sessions during Wednesday’s opening workout, and Showalter installed a bunting station for pitchers so they wouldn’t be idle as six sets of pitchers took turns throwing in the bullpen. … Other than outfielder Austin Hays, position players who arrived and worked out Wednesday included outfielders Trey Mancini, Joey Rickard, Mark Trumbo and Jaycob Brugman. … Infielder Éngelb Vielma, who will compete for a utility spot this spring, might not arrive in time for the first full-squad workout Monday because he’s being delayed by visa problems. … Right-hander Perci Garner will open camp without restrictions after surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in December, Showalter said.