CLEVELAND -- Manager Johnny Oates had his pitching rotation mapped out for the remainder of the season, but now he isn't willing to look past the weekend series against the Detroit Tigers.
"We've got Jamie Moyer going on Friday night, and after that, I don't know," Oates said yesterday. "Arthur Rhodes will go Saturday and Fernando Valenzuela will go Sunday, unless I decide to pitch someone else."
What Oates is not saying is that his plans depend on a number of factors, one of which is whether the Orioles are still within striking distance of first place in the American League East. If they aren't, there is the likelihood the starting rotation could be altered to include one or more of the young pitchers who have been playing minor roles in the bullpen.
It is too early to give up on the division race, but if first-place Toronto pulls away any more from the Orioles in the next few days, there will be nothing to lose by auditioning Kevin McGehee or Mike Oquist.
That is not the only consideration, however. The four-inning performance by Valenzuela Monday night left open the possibility that he will be skipped in the rotation against the hard-hitting Tigers. Valenzuela had a good run for a while, but he has won one of his past 11 starts. His status may have hinged on the performance of Rick Sutcliffe last night, because Sutcliffe could come back on normal rest Sunday.
Rhodes may have saved his place in the rotation with his 6 1/3 -inning performance in Sunday's victory in Milwaukee. Oates left his options open for Saturday's game, but Rhodes seems likely to make his scheduled start.
The Orioles finally are in a position to run some other candidates out there. Oquist had a solid season with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings and has pitched well in each of his three appearances in the majors. In those three games, he has worked six innings and given up no runs and just two hits to make a good early impression on Oates and the coaching staff.
Oquist has worked out of the bullpen during his two brief stays this year, but he has been brought through the Orioles organization as a starter. He could get a chance if the Orioles don't close the gap quickly.
McGehee, who was acquired from the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Luis Mercedes early in the season, has not been quite so effective. He also has made three relief appearances, giving up 11 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings to post a 9.58 ERA, but Oates still has been impressed with his poise.
John O'Donoghue, who pitched in relief last night, is the only one who had started this year. He struggled through 6 2/3 innings (six runs, nine hits) against the New York Yankees in June, but could get another look during the final week of play.
Six months ago, the Orioles appeared to be short on minor-league pitching depth, but time has been on their side. The success of veterans Moyer and Valenzuela allowed several young players to remain in the minor leagues for the entire season.
"The reason you didn't bring those pitchers up earlier is because they needed more experience," Oates said. "In one sense, our lack of depth hurt us, because we had to bring guys like O'Donoghue and [outfielder Damon] Buford up here. There was a need here, but they didn't get to do much. That was an advantage for Oquist and McGehee. They gained that year of experience."
The question now is whether they will get a chance to use it before the season ends.