The Orioles Ever Evolving Starting Rotation

The Orioles starting rotation spent all of the 2012 season in a constant state of evolution.  The team used 12 starters in total with only one (Wei-Yin Chen) making more than 20 starts.  In 2013, the Orioles have already used eight starters with a ninth set to debut on Saturday.  However, just as the turnover in 2012 was not necessarily a terrible thing, neither should the early season turnover this year be viewed entirely negatively.  There are reasons the rotation as been in a state of flux and some of the rotation shake ups could actually prove to be a benefit to Baltimore going forward.

Nine Starters in 2013

Steve Johnson will make his 2013 season debut on Saturday.  The right-hander will be starting in place of Miguel Gonzalez who has been placed on the 15-day disabled list (retroactive to May 4th) with a blister on his pitching hand.

When Johnson takes the mound on Saturday, he will become the ninth starting pitcher that the Orioles have used in 2013.  With only 35 games down on the schedule (36 by game time Saturday), it goes without saying that is a lot of starting pitchers used.  I would not call it truly unexpected nor would I classify the amount of starters used as inherently bad.

For the record, Josh Stinson started against the Blue Jays on April 24th entirely because a doubleheader played on April 20th necessitated it.  Zach Britton was given a shot at the 5th starter spot and sent back down, while Freddy Garcia has seemingly captured that role for the time being.  Steve Johnson starts on Saturday due to a minor injury to Gonzalez.  So while it might be easy to see the nine starters used by the Orioles and assume that the rotation is struggling along, that is not really the case.  The O’s have will have used nine starters by the end of game #37 for a variety of reasons.

Jurrjens and Wada On the Horizon

Nonetheless, the Birds are ahead of pace in matching the 12 starters utilized in 2012.  It is difficult to imagine a scenario where Jair Jurrjens does not get a shot in the big league rotation before his June opt-out date.  Jurrjens is 4-1 with a 2.62 ERA seven starts for the Norfolk Tides.  The former All-Star has struck out 29 batters while allowing 15 walks in 44.2 innings of work.  He has yet to give up more than three runs in anyone of his seven starts.

It is also very likely that Tsuyoshi Wada will get a look once he is finished with a rehab assignment that should begin early next week.  Baltimore is paying the Japanese right-hander $8.5 million over two years, although he has yet to pitch an inning for the club due to injuries.  One would think the Orioles would like to get something out of their investment.  While the bullpen is always a possibility, I would be moderately surprised if the O’s did not at least give Wada a look as a starter due to the 5th spot in the rotation being unsettled and the inevitable need for a replacement starter or two as the season moves along.

Given Jurrjens and Wada’s situations, plus the fact that injuries could always occur, it seems likely that at least two more starters get into the action for the O’s before all is said and done.  Again, it is not a bad thing.  The Orioles have some flexibility in the rotation and a whole lot of depth.  The organization would be doing itself a disservice not to rotate through these candidates to at least see what they have.

5th Starter Not a Major Problem

There has been quite a bit of consternation recently about the Orioles 5th starter spot.  Jake Arrieta struggled to the point of being demoted and Zach Britton did not impress in his one start audition.  Freddy Garcia has been solid in his two outings with Baltimore but his stuff suggests that he will provide only a temporary solution at best.  There is a feeling around Birdland that the Orioles need to find a permanent 5th starter and need to get more production out of whomever that ends up being.

I don’t think the situation is quite so dire.  The bottom line is that almost every MLB team is not satisfied with their 5th starter.  Teams struggle to find one or two or three good starters most years.  Very few – if any – have a solid 5-man rotation the entire year.  Pitching is a scarce commodity in major league baseball which makes dependable 5th starters hard to find.  The Orioles are not behind the curve with their inability to find a 5th starter – they are really no different than the norm.

The Orioles will keep mixing and matching until they find a 5th starter solution that works, but until then I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over the minimal amount of production the team has received thus far from their 5th starter.

Gonzalez’s DL Sting Well Timed

On another starting pitching note, while it is never good to see a starter land on the DL Miguel Gonzalez’s current DL stint is about as “good” as it gets.  First of all, the injury – a blister on his pitching hand – is about as minor of an injury that will lead to a DL stay as we will ever see.  Gonzo will almost certainly be ready to return on the 19th of May when the 15-day period is up.  Second, the Orioles can make it through the 19th while only using the pitcher brought to replace Miguel (Steve Johnson) one time.  This is the result of the two off days the team has next week.

Alternatively, Buck Showalter could have Freddy Garcia work out of the bullpen during this stretch with Steve Johnson working out of the 4th starter spot.  In any event, the Orioles will be able to carry an extra bullpen arm for the next ten days.  My assumption would be that Garcia will be available out of the pen on Tuesday and Wednesday.  If he is needed in relief, Johnson can start the game on the 17th.  If not, Garcia might get that start (or an earlier one) with Johnson being available out of the bullpen starting Wednesday.

As always with the Orioles, the pitching situation is in a constant state of flux.  It is not a bad thing though and for the next ten days, the Orioles have quite a bit of flexibility to play with.