Orioles' Matusz to start Saturday; Tillman gets nod for Sunday

Bergesen will start season in bullpen; Showalter still weighing closer options

March 30, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec and Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles' four-man rotation to start the season is set after Brian Matusz threw a bullpen session Wednesday and pronounced himself ready to go and the team announced that Chris Tillman will start Sunday in Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tillman beat out Brad Bergesen with Justin Duchscherer starting the season on the disabled list and top pitching prospect Zach Britton beginning at Triple-A Norfolk.

Jeremy Guthrie will start Opening Day on Friday at Tropicana Field. Matusz and Tillman will follow him, and Jake Arrieta will start Monday's home opener against the Detroit Tigers at Camden Yards. Bergesen, meanwhile, will go to the bullpen and likely be the top candidate to join the rotation April 10, when the Orioles need a fifth starter.

Neither Tillman nor Bergesen had a particularly good spring. Tillman, a 22-year-old right-hander who made the Opening Day roster for the first time, had a 3.93 ERA in five spring outings, but he allowed 20 hits, nine walks and hit two batters in 181/3 innings. Bergesen, 25, pitched to a 5.82 ERA over six spring starts, surrendering 25 hits and six walks over 17 innings.

In his final start Friday, Bergesen was drilled in the right forearm by a liner off the bat of the Minnesota Twins' Denard Span. He threw two innings Wednesday against Orioles minor leaguers and had no issues.

The battle for the final rotation spot essentially became a two-man competition after Duchscherer was sidelined and other options, such as Ryan Drese and Rick VandenHurk, struggled. Britton was the Orioles' most effective starter all spring, but the club didn't want to sacrifice a year of his service time just to have him in the rotation for the first 21/2 weeks.

Britton is on schedule to rejoin the club and make his big league debut later in April. Barring any setbacks with his surgically repaired left hip, Duchscherer is in line to come off the DL and start April 21.

If he struggles, that would mean a short stay in the rotation for Tillman, who has a 5.61 ERA over 23 big league starts spanning the past two seasons.

There was a chance that both Tillman and Bergesen could start the season in the rotation had Matusz not responded well. But five days after taking a liner by L.J. Hoes off his left biceps in a simulated game against Orioles minor leaguers, the 24-year-old threw a 35-to-40 pitch bullpen session Wednesday that lifted any lingering concern that he wouldn't be ready for the season.

"It was 100 percent today, so I have to be thankful for that," Matusz said. "Since I don't feel it, I'm putting it behind me. My focus is to get ready for the start on Saturday. I'm physically ready and mentally ready. I'm just excited to get out there and get going."

It was a difficult spring for Matusz, who traveled to Philadelphia to have a wart removed from the middle finger on his throwing hand a day after his first spring outing March 3. That limited him early, and Matusz, who has also been working on some mechanical changes, wasn't able to complete five full innings in any outing this spring. He was scheduled to do that March 23, but Matusz lasted just 11/3 innings, allowing four runs on five hits and three walks against the Twins.

For the spring, he went 0-2 with a 5.93 ERA in five outings (four starts) and surrendered nine earned runs on 17 hits, three homers and seven walks in just 132/3 innings.

"It was a frustrating spring. I mean, small injuries are out of my control. It just happened. I was able to get past them, and that's the most important thing — just get past them and stay mentally focused. It's been a tough spring. I've been working on some stuff with [pitching coach Mark Connor] and [bullpen coach Rick Adair]. I'm starting to feel comfortable. I feel real good. I feel built up and ready to go for the season," Matusz said. "Everything is behind me — the finger thing, this arm thing is behind me. I'm not even going to think about it. I feel like I'm 100 percent ready to go. I'm just excited for Saturday."

Not set on closer

Showalter was asked Wednesday whether he had decided whom he would give the ball to if the Orioles have a one-run lead in the ninth this weekend against the Rays. The obvious closer candidates are Kevin Gregg and Koji Uehara.

"See what the situation is. I've had some conversations. The one thing with Koji is you probably aren't going to be able to go back-to-back [games] with him initially," Showalter said of Uehara, who pitched in just three big league games this spring because of elbow soreness.

The manager said he wouldn't rule out left-hander Michael Gonzalez if there were three lefties scheduled to hit for the Rays in the bottom of the ninth.

"Don't hold me to anything, but I got a feeling the way it will work out right now," Showalter said. "[I'm] not ready to totally commit to that yet. It could change by the time the workout's over [Thursday]."

Weaver to throw out first pitch

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