The Baltimore Orioles’ Rotation… Now What?
With an already average starting rotation at the beginning of the year, the Baltimore Orioles could hardly afford to lose many arms, particularly this early in the season. But with Wei-Yin Chen expected to go on the disabled list Tuesday with a strained right oblique, that’s exactly what is happening. He’ll join Miguel Gonzalez (DL, blister) and Jake Arrieta (optioned to AAA Norfolk) on the frighteningly growing list of Baltimore starters unable to stay healthy and produce.
Now, the Orioles do have organizational pitching depth. Josh Stinson, Zach Britton, Freddy Garcia, and Steve Johnson have all made spot starts, with Garcia appearing to have taken over Arrieta’s spot in the rotation. Baltimore also has Jair Jurrjens Norfolk waiting his turn, which should come soon. So the question: with so many moving parts, how will the Orioles find stability and innings from their starters?
One remedy is a great bullpen. The Orioles most certainly have that. But even the best bullpens break down from overuse, and the Baltimore bullpen ranks fifth in the American League in terms of innings pitched. In spite of that, they’ve managed to post a 2.64 ERA, good for second in all of baseball. But can that continue with their workload?
Baltimore also has a manager in Buck Showalter that is very good at mixing and matching his starters. In the final two months of the 2012 season, Showalter did just that, finding a way to give extra rest to Gonzalez and Chen without sacrificing wins. Johnson and Britton were big contributors, as was Joe Saunders, who now pitches for Seattle. An Orioles fan has to get the feeling that no matter how thin the rotation and bullpen are stretched, Showalter will find a way to make it work.
Over the next week or two, the rotation will likely include Jason Hammel, Chris Tillman, Garcia, Jurrjens, and Britton, though Brian Matusz could get another shot at a starting role, as he’s been lights out ever since transitioning to the bullpen in 2012.
Fortunately for the Orioles, they had an off day Monday and have another on Thursday, giving the pen and starters some much-needed extra rest. But for now, the Orioles are relying on a patchwork rotation to keep them in ballgames while the offense and the bullpen do the heavy lifting. If they can survive this month and get everyone healthy once again, then it would be tough to bet against them come September and, potentially, October.