Orioles right-hander Gabriel Ynoa will have one final opportunity this season to make a push for starting rotation consideration next spring when he faces the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night at PNC Park.
He's likely already done enough to be considered in the mix for a spot next spring, but that might say more about the Orioles' dire need for rotation help in 2018 than it does about the resume he's built through three starts.
Give credit where it's due. Ynoa's last start made a strong case, as he held the Tampa Bay Rays to one run on five hits over eight innings on Thursday night at Camden Yards. In many ways, it was the best start of Ynoa's career. He had never gone more than 4 2/3 innings in a major league start and had never thrown more than 76 pitches (he threw 94 on Thursday), so it was a showing not only of his ability but also of his endurance.
In that outing, he commanded both sides of the plate, using his mid-90s sinking fastball and a mid-80s slider. He recorded eight called strikes on each pitch.
"I want to try to make the most out of it," Ynoa said through interpreter Ramon Alarcon. "I know it's very important for me, and for my career. At the same time, I'm thinking about the team, helping the team now and in the future as well."
The Orioles have shown faith in Ynoa, giving him four straight starts. He received only three starts last year with the New York Mets, and never more than two in a row.
"It's definitely so much better when you start building a routine, getting prepared and thinking ahead of a start," Ynoa said. "So it's definitely something I appreciate and I value for sure."
Of the stable of optionable arms the Orioles assembled as long reliever-spot starter options in the offseason and early in spring training, Ynoa is the only one who appears to be building a legitimate case for a rotation spot next season.
In spring training, it was a long list that included Ynoa, Alec Asher, Jayson Aquino, Vidal Nuño, Richard Bleier, Chris Lee, Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, Jason Garcia, Parker Bridwell, Jesus Liranzo, Joe Gunkel and Logan Verrett.
Most of those pitchers had experience starting and relieving. Bleier stuck in the bullpen as a valuable multi-inning lefty. Some — such as Garcia, Wilson and Verrett — have been taken off the 40-man roster. Others — such as Bridwell and Gunkel — are in other organizations. Liranzo and Lee never reached the major league level this season.
Nuño and Wright rode the Triple-A Norfolk shuttle as relievers. Asher and Aquino received a few spot starts mixed with occasional bullpen work. Miguel Castro, who was acquired in early April, can't be included in that spring training stable.
And now, Ynoa is the one pitcher out of that group working toward a rotation spot in September.