OAKLAND — Orioles manager Buck Showalter likes to say his 2012 Orioles are a "sum of the parts" team, one that doesn't have anyone that really stands out, but plenty of players that help the club win.
But in any successful campaign, the inevitable question is: Who is the club's most valuable player?
Let the discussion begin.
"Ooh, I don't know what to say on that one," said reliever Pedro Strop.
The obvious answers are closer Jim Johnson, who is tied for the major league lead in saves heading into Friday night, and Adam Jones, who has hit 29 homers, including 18 that have either tied a game or given the Orioles a lead.
"Jonesy hit all those homers to put us ahead and all those saves that Jim Johnson has," Strop said. "But J.J. Hardy catches every groundball. There's just so many guys have contributed."
The club gives out a Most Valuable Oriole award each season that is voted on by the media that covers the team. Ballots will go out next week.
Jones, who won it last year, doesn't think one player should get it in 2012. Johnson, he said, has had a great year, but if you go with just Johnson it's "a slap in everybody's face" that pitches in the bullpen.
"I'd like to see it go to the whole bullpen. Obviously, the entire 25-man [roster], and now 40-man, has done what they needed to do to put us in the position we are in. But there's no way in hell we'd be in the position without the whole bullpen. No way," Jones said. "Our starting pitching has been better than in my six years. But the bullpen has been unbelievable. Johnson has  saves, and the Orioles' record is 45. So Johnson's got a great chance to match and surpass that. But you have to look at the whole bullpen."
Forget about getting Johnson — or for that matter, Showalter — to talk about individual awards.
But one of the club's most irreplaceable relievers, Darren O'Day, said, "That'd be cool if you could vote for a whole unit."
Since that won't happen, O'Day would throw his support to catcher Matt Wieters for what he means to the team as a whole — though O'Day also mentions Jones and Johnson.
"Without Matt, I don't think our pitching staff would be nearly as successful as it has been this year through all the changes and the young guys getting shuttled in and out, and injuries and all that stuff," O'Day said. "Jonesy has been clutch for us all year, the most consistent guy in the lineup. … Jimmy has been the man. Jimmy has been good all year. I just feel like a catcher influences the game from both sides of the ball."Patton and Thome to play in instructional league
Lefty reliever Troy Patton (sprained right ankle) will pitch the first inning Sunday in the Orioles' initial instructional league game in Sarasota, Fla. He likely will get in one more instructional league outing and then could join the Orioles in either Seattle or Boston. The Orioles have a work day Tuesday in Sarasota, but they could create a game-type situation for Patton.
Jim Thome (herniated disk in neck) could also play in an instructional league game perhaps Monday or Wednesday. There's no set timetable for his return, but it's possible he could be with the team for its final homestand, which begins Sept. 24.
"They were a part of some good things that we'd like to take advantage of again," Showalter said of Patton and Thome. "So it would help. Any time, this time of year, as many bullets as you can arm yourself with, you like. And these are two guys we know are capable of helping us."
Tillman starts Monday
Chris Tillman (right elbow) threw a successful bullpen Thursday and will likely throw one more session Saturday before taking the starting assignment Monday in Seattle, Showalter said. It will be Tillman's first outing since leaving the mound Sept. 2 due to elbow ligament inflammation.
Zach Britton will start Saturday, but the Orioles still list their pitcher for Sunday as TBA. Showalter said he hasn't made the decision yet — he wants to see who he will need in the bullpen during the first two days of the series. Sunday would be Jason Hammel's normal turn, but he is dealing with a right knee injury and will be skipped at least once.
One strong possibility for Sunday is lefty Randy Wolf, who has been a starter for most of his career. Jake Arrieta and Steve Johnson also could be in consideration.
With Tillman starting Monday and Joe Saunders on Wednesday, the Orioles have two of their three pitchers set for the Mariners series. But Showalter has not yet made a call on who will start Tuesday in Seattle. It's Miguel Gonzalez's turn, but he could be skipped to give him more rest and manage his innings.
Around the horn