Orioles roster decisions beginning to clear up

With one week of exhibition games left, Orioles manager Dave Trembley said several roster uncertainties that the club had heading into camp still linger, but how Trembley answered a few questions today provided a little more clarity.

Miguel Tejada will start the season as the primary cleanup hitter, Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie could share left-field duties initially, and David Hernandez has almost surely taken away the fifth-rotation spot from Chris Tillman, who looks to be headed to Triple-A Norfolk.

Trembley continued to be somewhat evasive about his Opening Day roster, including the specific batting order and the remaining pitching battles – reiterating that final decisions wouldn't be made until this last week of games.

"I said that in January, the fifth starter thing. I said the bullpen would go right to the end of camp," Trembley said. "The other things that we said (before camp started), I think we need to find out about the health of (Nolan) Reimold, we need to find out about (Brian) Roberts. And we need to find out about (Felix) Pie, what he was. … I said the main thing about Koji (Uehara) was we need to find out if he was healthy, and we're still right in the same thing."

The following issues need to be resolved by Opening Day in St. Petersburg on April 6.

Lineup: If Roberts has rebounded from a herniated disk, he'll bat leadoff, with Adam Jones likely second, Nick Markakis third and Miguel Tejada at cleanup. Trembley has juggled several lineups this spring, including using various options in the fourth spot. Tejada has been there the most, and Trembley admitted Sunday that he thinks the veteran is his best current option at cleanup.

"He is the most experienced guy," Trembley said about Tejada. "That doesn't mean he will be there all the time, but he is the most experienced guy."

Trembley said he prefers to have a left-hander or switch-hitter behind Tejada, which means switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters or lefty designated hitter Luke Scott likely would bat fifth. Trembley had used Wieters at fifth and fourth at different times this spring.

"Eventually (Wieters) will be a middle of the order guy," Trembley said. "Spring training has been a great vehicle for me to do that, but that doesn't mean Opening Day he is going to be the four hitter. Eventually someday in his career he might be."

Trembley said the versatility in his lineup should afford him different orders depending on whether a right-hander or left-handed pitcher starts. With Tampa Bay's James Shields, a right-hander, slated for the opener, left-handed hitting Pie appears to be in line to start in left that day ahead of Reimold.

"I could do that," Trembley said. "I could. I'm not saying (Pie is the Opening Day starter), but he could be."

Bullpen: With the Orioles playing their first 16 games of the season without a day off, Trembley said having two long relievers in the bullpen is "something to wisely consider."

Left-hander Mark Hendrickson is assured of one spot, and Jason Berken, who has a 2.84 ERA in six games, appears to be the leading candidate for the other. Of the pitchers remaining in camp, Trembley said only Berken, Hernandez and Matt Albers would be suited for the available long role.

One-inning relievers Mike Gonzalez, Jim Johnson, Cla Meredith and Will Ohman are all expected to join Hendrickson in the bullpen, leaving two spots for Albers, Berken, Hernandez, Kam Mickolio and Uehara.

Uehara has not thrown from a mound since straining his left hamstring on March 18, and if he can't pitch this week, he'll start the season on the disabled list.

"You can't go the whole week and the week previous and not play and then you are going to get active?" Trembley said. "We're not going to do that."

A favorite to make the team in February, Mickolio has had an uneven camp, posting a 1.93 ERA in eight games despite walking seven batters in 9 1/3 innings. He hasn't pitched since Thursday due to a sore groin.

If Uehara is placed on the DL, Mickolio is demoted to Triple-A and Hernandez makes the rotation, Berken and Albers would fill out the bullpen. There has been no talk, Trembley said, of an eight-man bullpen.

Rotation: Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz and Brad Bergesen are lined up to be the first four starters, and Trembley isn't revealing the No. 5.

However, he said he is "probably moving closer to making that decision" and given that Hernandez again pitched superbly Saturday (five scoreless innings) while Tillman struggled with his command Friday (two runs, four walks in 4 1/3 innings), Hernandez looks to be the favorite.

Trembley reiterated Sunday that the 21-year-old Tillman would be sent to the minors if he doesn't win the fifth-starter battle.

"It's a very interesting and complex issue really," Trembley said. "You've got to look at all the situations and, to be honest with you, the situation with (the health of) Koji kind of throws a wrench into it a little bit."

Health: In February, the Orioles were concerned about the health of Roberts (back), Reimold (left Achilles), Uehara (right elbow) and Pie (left quad). Roberts had an epidural shot in his back on March 15 and began playing in games Friday. He is expected to be ready for Opening Day. Reimold is still slowed by the foot surgery but is playing, as is Pie, who also was sidelined in the spring with a shoulder injury. Uehara is the only one who may not be ready for April 6.

Bench: The backup catcher job is still a battle between Chad Moeller and Craig Tatum. The club likes the way the veteran Moeller handles young pitchers, but Tatum has a stronger and more accurate arm. The Orioles also could trade for a backup as teams begin to finalize rosters. Robert Andino, as expected, has won the utility infield position.

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