Orioles' Opening Day rotation largely set; club cuts six

Guthrie to start third season opener in four years; Bell among players sent down

March 24, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — A week from opening the 2011 season, Orioles manager Buck Showalter answered several of his roster questions Thursday and revealed three-quarters of his Opening Day rotation.

As expected, Jeremy Guthrie, the senior member of the staff and the most consistent starter last season, will get the call on Opening Night for the third time in the past four years. He'll be followed in the rotation by Brian Matusz. Jake Arrieta also has secured a spot, but he'll be given the ball for the fourth game, the Orioles' home opener.

With Justin Duchscherer set to start the season on the disabled list with the goal for him to be ready by April 21, the Orioles will go with a four-man rotation until they need a fifth starter April 10. That scenario leaves Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton competing for the final spot in a rotation headed by Guthrie.

"It's nice to be on the field for the first game of the year," said Guthrie, the Orioles' Opening Day starter in 2008 and 2009 before Kevin Millwood did the honors last season. "That means a lot, to be with your teammates in that first game. I remember watching it last year and saying, 'Man, I really wish I was out there.'"

The Orioles also made six more cuts, optioning third baseman Josh Bell to Triple-A Norfolk and assigning catcher Michel Hernandez and pitchers Chris Jakubauskas, Alberto Castillo, Chris George and Mike Ballard to minor league camp.

They swapped Rule 5 picks with the Milwaukee Brewers as Adrian Rosario was returned to Milwaukee and Pat Egan came back to the Orioles. When he arrives, Egan could appear in a big league spring training game so Orioles pitching coach Mark Connor and bullpen coach Rick Adair can get a look at the 26-year-old before he's assigned to Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles liked Rosario's arm and the 21-year-old's potential, but president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail was unable to swing a deal to keep him.

All the roster activity left the Orioles with 37 players on their spring roster, and that includes Britton, the 23-year-old left-hander who has been the team's best starter this spring but isn't expected to break camp with the club because of service-time concerns. If the Orioles keep Britton at Triple-A through at least April 21, they won't lose a full year of his service time when he is called up.

"It's exciting. We're seven days from breaking camp and I'm still here fighting for a spot," said Britton, who has allowed one earned run in 14 innings this spring. "It's important for me to keep going out there and throwing well, and hopefully, at the end of the day, that's good enough for me to go north."

Bell is clearly the headliner among the latest cuts, though it was expected that the 24-year-old would start the season at Triple-A after the Orioles acquired Mark Reynolds in December to play third base. Bell didn't have a great camp offensively, batting .225 with zero homers, three RBIs and seven walks. However, he still made a good impression on team officials by coming into camp about 25 pounds lighter after an offseason working out with former Oriole Brady Anderson.

"You can't feel any other way but to [need to] prove yourself," said Bell, who played 53 games for the Orioles in 2010 and batted .214 with three homers and 12 RBIs. "That's just the way I feel about it. You have to prove people wrong. If you're winning other people over, whether it be another team or the front office, whoever it is, you just have to prove yourself."

Showalter's announcements Thursday set up some interesting storylines for the final six games of the Orioles' Grapefruit League schedule. The most interesting decision is who becomes the fourth member of the rotation.

Because of Britton's service-time considerations, it's believed that Bergesen and Tillman are essentially in a two-man competition for that spot. Both have struggled at times this spring, with Bergesen compiling a 5.94 ERA and allowing 31 base runners in 162/3 innings and Tillman pitching to a 3.55 ERA but allowing 20 base runners in 122/3 innings.

Both will get one final start this spring. Bergesen will face the Minnesota Twins on Friday afternoon in Fort Myers, while Chris Tillman will oppose the Boston Red Sox on Sunday at Ed Smith Stadium. Also that day, Guthrie will pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays in a split-squad game in Dunedin.

Asked which game he'll be at that day, Showalter said: "What do you think? You don't know me very well. I think Guthrie's made the club. He's in a pretty good spot. Plus Dunedin's a long way. We flipped. [Bench coach Willie Randolph] lost."

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