Showalter sees quality in his large quantity of pitchers

Orioles manager says he'll take another veteran starter, but is happy with current group

February 14, 2014|Peter Schmuck

SARASOTA, FLA. — Let the record show that there were 29 pitchers on the field when the Orioles opened training camp at the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Friday, and at least three late arrivals will join the team in the next week or so.

The exact number is not important, but the inordinate size of the spring pitching roster can easily be viewed as either a blessing or a curse — a sign of improved organizational depth, or competitive insecurity.

No doubt, the people who feel that the Orioles should have done more over the offseason to replace closer Jim Johnson and improve the starting rotation are not going to be impressed with the notion that there is strength in the large number of pitchers who have been brought to camp to compete for jobs on the major league staff.

The club has tried to play that card too many times before.

The Orioles, even after reaching an agreement with Korean pitcher Suk-min Yoon this week, are still down a 50-save reliever and a couple of veteran starters from last season, so it's fair to wonder whether the staff can take a step forward this year.

Manager Buck Showalter said Friday he is more than willing to accept additional help if executive vice president Dan Duquette decides to add another veteran starter, but he doesn't see gloom and doom in his crowded clubhouse — quite the contrary.

"I know there are a couple of guys who are already doing the math — the Norfolk manager and pitching coach — and not only pitching, but some other places,'' Showalter said. "They're pretty excited, and I don't know if that was always the case. They're a little presumptuous that someone is not going to make this club, I think."

The inference here is that there are enough quality arms that Tides manager Ron Johnson and pitching coach Mike Griffin are drooling over the possibility of a Triple-A rotation that could include Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and Eduardo Rodriguez.

And, to take that concept a step further, Showalter has to be thrilled that the next wave of top organizational pitching talent will be just a phone call away during the second half of the 2014 season.

Showalter is a big-picture guy, so his view over the horizon extends beyond Norfolk.

"I was looking at the potential Bowie and Norfolk rotations,'' he said. "If some things work out like we hope they do, it's a little different look than we've had in the past. I haven't had many times here when we sent somebody down and said 'Gosh, we had to send him down for the wrong reasons.'"

The question, of course, is whether the Orioles can have it both ways. No one denies that they have put together a nice group of up-and-coming pitchers who could pop at just about any time, but Job One is putting together a major league staff that can compete for a playoff berth in the American League East this season.

Since they basically are bringing back last year's rotation — minus departed free agent starter Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel, who pitched out of the bullpen in September — the challenge will be getting more innings from the four returnees and reducing the workload of the bullpen.

Showalter hopes that the arrival of new pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti will help, and he doesn't seem concerned about the logistical challenge of two new coaches sorting out such a complex, multi-level pitching situation.

"I think Dave and Dom have been down this road so many times, they know,'' he said. "I trust them, so I'm excited about them. But I felt good last year. I just feel we'll be as good as we're capable of being."

The good news from an organizational depth standpoint is that the Orioles will be able to warehouse almost all of the pitchers they want to keep. There will only be a handful of tough 40-man roster decisions, and those usually take care of themselves.

"We kept our flexibility with only two or three exceptions,'' Showalter said. "We don't have a lot of pitchers out of options, really. We'll be able to keep the depth. It's obviously too early to handicap anything, but if it doesn't get separated by injury, it's going to be pretty competitive at the end."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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