O's reaching for another arm wouldn't be a stretch

February 17, 2010|By Peter Schmuck

SARASOTA, Fla. — This is not going to be breaking news, but it might be food for thought. Andy MacPhail is wondering - just as you are - whether he has done enough to build an adequate pitching staff.

"I'm never going to be totally confident about pitching," he said Tuesday, the day before pitchers and catchers are officially required to report for spring training. "Nobody has enough pitching. Just look at the Red Sox last year. That's just the way our sport is."

Of course, you could look at that comment as the standard mantra of just about every general manager in the history of the baseball business, or you could look at it in the specific context of the Orioles and wonder whether MacPhail is about to take a harder look at the remaining pitchers on the free-agent market.

I'm starting to hope that he's going to err on the side of Jarrod Washburn.

The Orioles don't necessarily need another starting pitcher, but they might. Right-hander Brad Bergesen has been set back by a shoulder strain, the full extent of which won't be known for a couple of weeks. He'll probably be ready by Opening Day, but I don't know whether it makes sense to wait and see.

If Bergesen's shoulder soreness lingers, the Orioles basically have the same options for the back end of the rotation as they had late last year. Maybe David Hernandez or Jason Berken - or Jake Arrieta, for that matter - will be ready to take a big step forward, but it might be nice to have one more guy with a track record to absorb some of those innings.

MacPhail is understandably hesitant to commit to another veteran pitcher. He already acquired Kevin Millwood to anchor the young rotation, and he took his share of criticism for last year's failed experiments with Adam Eaton and Rich Hill. Washburn would be a big cut above those two guys, but he also would represent a temporary change in direction that could impede the progress of one of the club's top pitching prospects.

It's a tough call. Bring Washburn or somebody like him into camp and - if all goes well - you might end up having to decide between him and Chris Tillman when it comes time for final cuts.

That doesn't sound very good until you remember the original premise - that you can never have too much good pitching. Tillman is 21, and if he were forced back to Triple-A Norfolk for a couple of months, it probably wouldn't be the end of the world.

We're not talking about a situation in which a fringe veteran (like Eaton) comes in to get his brains beat out by the beasts of the AL East to avoid bruising your best prospect. It's something to consider only if you're really trying to win more games this year and you really think the guy will help.

MacPhail has already made a number of similar decisions. He signed Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada to one-year deals to buy time for the development of top corner-infield prospects Josh Bell and Brandon Snyder. Both free-agent acquisitions are stopgaps, but they aren't cannon fodder.

The hope is that both Atkins and Tejada will make the Orioles more competitive. The same goes for Millwood and closer Mike Gonzalez, another free-agent signing.

"The additions were made to support our core group and to maximize the number of wins," MacPhail said. "We wanted high-quality guys who will help our guys see what it takes to compete. In that respect, we're satisfied with the offseason.

"There was a school of thought that we should not make any additions. Just put our young guys out there, keep the payroll low and not support them. That's not what we chose to do."

That's why the Orioles will open pitcher and catcher workouts Thursday with very few projected openings in their 25-man roster. That's also why everybody thought the starting rotation was pretty much set until the Bergesen injury.

He'll probably be fine, but he's now coming back from two injuries instead of one, so there's only one thing that's certain:

You can never have enough pitching.

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "Sportsline" on WBAL (1090 AM), and check out "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimore sun.com/schmuckblog.

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