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Schmuck: Three weeks to go until Orioles' opener and still too much we don't know

Orioles writers Jon Meoli and Peter Schmuck discuss the roster opportunities created in spring training by the recent injuries to Chris Davis (elbow) and Mark Trumbo (quad).

SARASOTA, FLA. — When the Orioles opened spring training three weeks ago, their roster situation wasn’t great but what was required to fix it was fairly easy to define.

They needed to add two starting pitchers and a left-handed-hitting outfielder, which they managed to do in relatively short order out of the seemingly immovable free-agent market.

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So, for a time, it seemed like all that was left to do was get everybody in shape and hope enough dominoes fell in the right direction to get the Orioles to Opening Day with a puncher’s chance to compete for a playoff berth this season.

Orioles Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr. didn't have his best command Thursday against the Toronto Blue Jays, and ended up enduring a difficult afternoon because of it.

That’s why there was some serious head-scratching when the front office started picking players off the pile that didn’t exactly fit the needs they had outlined during the offseason.

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Nobody is wondering anymore — not with both sluggers Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo sidelined with injuries and manager Buck Showalter posting an exhibition lineup card Thursday that might not be far from the ones he’ll fill out during the first week of the regular season.

Trey Mancini was at first base. Pedro Álvarez was the designated hitter. Rule 5 holdover Anthony Santander was in left field.

It’s not a likely scenario. Davis (elbow) and Trumbo (quad) are expected to be back in action soon, but the combination of those two setbacks, the sore shoulder hampering outfield prospect Austin Hays and the recent arrival of Álvarez and Danny Valencia make it seem like this is a wide-open camp.

The signing of Álvarez was presented as “injury insurance” before there appeared to be a need for any. Valencia is one of the best hitters in the game against left-handed pitching, but the Orioles arrived in camp imbalanced on the other side of the plate.

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Both of them have hit the ground running and it no longer is a total stretch of the imagination to envision one or both of them hitting their way onto the regular-season roster.

Santander has always been ticketed for Baltimore, because the club is still high on him, and as a Rule 5 guy who was on the disabled list for much of last year, he has to be on the 25-man roster until mid-May to assure he remains in the organization. He’s also having a pretty good spring so far.

Former Orioles top pick DJ Stewart is getting some work in right field this spring as the organization looks to diversify his defensive profile during his first major league spring training.

Mancini almost certainly will be the full-time left fielder, but if he were needed at first base, Showalter would have the option of a Santander-Valencia platoon in left field or any number of possible left-right-hitting combinations at the corner outfield positions.

If all this seems like a speculation overload, maybe it is. But Mancini played first base Thursday and Showalter usually has a reason for whatever he does, even in the preseason.

Meanwhile, the uncertainty that has clouded the rotation remains, but the Orioles did fill two open slots and there appear to be solid candidates for the fifth-starter role. Mike Wright Jr. is holding his own and Miguel Castro is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut Friday.

There’s room to project significant upside with veteran Andrew Cashner coming off a solid season with the Texas Rangers and Chris Tillman giving indications that he will bounce back from his frustrating 2017 season.

The wild card might be rookie right-hander Hunter Harvey, who has looked good and has sparked a conversation inside the organization about the wisdom of accelerating the timetable for his arrival in the major leagues.

There’s time for everything to shake out one way or another, but the Orioles can only be sure right now that they are set at the up-the-middle defensive positions.

Everywhere else, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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