O's have choices if Wright can't go


April 12, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

Jaret Wright feels a dull ache in his pitching shoulder and the dominoes start to fall.

Next on the Orioles' depth chart is Hayden Penn, but he had to be scratched from his second minor league start Tuesday night with some arm soreness.

That probably leaves long reliever Jeremy Guthrie as the logical replacement if Wright is forced out of the rotation, which seems like a pretty good bet right now.

I can almost hear the teeth-gnashing in the gloomier corners of Oriole Nation: The O's traded a decent young reliever for Wright, who had a long history of arm trouble, and - anyway - somebody should have figured something was up when the Yankees were willing to pay $4 million to let him pitch for a division rival.

Admittedly, the Orioles haven't had a lot of luck acquiring pitchers from New York lately, but we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Wright is still being evaluated. He figures to miss at least his next start or two, and perhaps many more, but he was worth the gamble at a time when the team needed to deepen the starting rotation and its free-agent options in that area were limited.

The timing could have been better. The front office again finds itself with a limited menu of options after being pushed into a shallow free-agent market to replace Kris Benson during the week leading up to spring training.

Penn always figured to be the fifth starter in waiting, but the forearm twinge that sidelined him Tuesday might actually force the Orioles into a better decision.

Club officials assume Penn will show up here at some point this season, but they would prefer to conserve at least a month or two of his major league service time to delay his eligibility for salary arbitration and free agency.

Guthrie, meanwhile, is found money. He's a former first-round draft pick the Orioles claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Indians who opened some eyes during spring training and made the team as a long reliever.

He has made two extended appearances, throwing 52 pitches in 2 2/3 innings in relief of Wright last week in Minnesota. He also replaced Wright on Tuesday and pitched three innings, keeping him right on schedule to take over that slot in the rotation, which comes up again Sunday.

The minor league alternative is highly regarded left-hander Garrett Olson - who remains in play - but the player development types probably would prefer to give him some more time to mature.

If Guthrie takes the mound against the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, it would be only the second major league start for a young pitcher who failed to break through with the Indians before his minor league options ran out. But if he somehow established himself as a dependable back-end member of the rotation, it wouldn't be the most unlikely pitching success story in recent Orioles history.

The Orioles signed Rodrigo Lopez off the roster of the Culiacan Tomato Growers of the Mexican Winter League before the 2002 season and he won 15 games in his first full season in the major leagues. Lopez would go on to be the Orioles winningest pitcher (60-58) during his five years here.

Manager Sam Perlozzo wasn't willing to speculate about the situation before last night's game, because Wright had yet to be seen by the Orioles' orthopedist, Dr. Andrew Cosgarea. There wasn't a whole lot for club officials to say after the game, either, because no hard conclusions were drawn from the examination.

Wright remains listed as day-to-day and his shoulder will be evaluated again before tonight's series opener against the Royals. It would seem prudent to hold him out of Sunday's start no matter how he responds to treatment between now and then, but that's a decision that didn't have to be made yesterday.

For the third time in the early stages of a new season, the depth of the Orioles' roster has become an issue, though Perlozzo and club officials seemed more confident in their ability to replace Wright than starting position players Ramon Hernandez and Jay Payton.

"We have a few options," Perlozzo said. "I think this will resolve itself."


Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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