Orioles' addition of Jimenez ramps up intrigue for pitchers on the bubble

February 18, 2014|Peter Schmuck

SARASOTA, FLA. — Zach Britton said all the right things after the news broke that the Orioles had filled out their projected starting rotation by agreeing to terms on a four-year deal with right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez.

So did South Korean pitcher Suk-min Yoon, who also acknowledged during his introductory news conference on Tuesday the impact that Jimenez likely will have on the competition for roles on the Orioles' newly improved pitching staff.

"You expected it,'' Britton said. "I think I said at FanFest that it would be naive to think they wouldn't add somebody. So, it's still the same mindset — go out there and try to be one of the best five, and I think I'm capable of doing that."

The approach may not change for any of the pitchers who have to scratch and claw to make the 25-man regular-season roster, but the landscape has been altered dramatically. It's fairly easy to project the Opening Day rotation, unless something happens between now and then to alter the pitching depth chart.

Chris Tillman and Jimenez will be at the top, with Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris likely to follow, but it is mid-February and it would be unusual for a team to get through spring training without a sore arm or a strained oblique.

So, Britton, Yoon and the other guys who were considered fifth-starter candidates when the fifth slot seemed wide open have to go about their business as if there is a starting job to win.

"I want to work hard, look good in front of the manager and pitch well so that I have an opportunity to start,'' Yoon said through agent Tad Hun Yo, who served as his interpreter for the news conference.

Maybe something opens up. Maybe not. Manager Buck Showalter said Tuesday that the important thing for everyone to consider is the impact the two acquistions make on the overall strength of the organization.

"There's always a form of competition," Showalter said. "There are spots and a ranking, so to speak. They're just competitive people. That's what they do. So many things can change between now and the end of spring. You pitch well and it's nothing but good for you. It can make for a good problem. [That's] what we hope happens."

One thing is certain: The level of pitching intrigue in training camp has ramped up dramatically in very short order.

Britton, who is out of minor league options, suddenly looks more like a candidate for the bullpen than the rotation. Yoon also could be used as a reliever if needed — something he did for a time last year in South Korea — or be part of what is shaping up to be a very talented Triple-A rotation.

The Jimenez deal may generate ripples that reach as far as Double-A Bowie, or it could produce roster possibilities at the major league level that lead to something totally unanticipated.

Showalter thinks his players — even the ones who are wondering if there is still room for them on the team — understand that.

"I'm not expecting anyone to walk through the door and say, 'What did you do that for?'" Showalter said. "What if two guys got hurt or Dan [Duquette] came in here with a great trade and two guys get traded? Just keep pitching. They really control it. They really do.

"Either they'll make themselves very available for [us] or be attractive for someone else. Other teams know who is out of options. Or maybe people are now going to be saying, 'Man, they have an excess.' Maybe that's an acquisition or whatever."

Indeed, there are worse things than a pitching surplus, though the bubble guys wouldn't be human if they weren't impacted by the uncertainty.

"It gets tougher now, obviously,'' Britton said. "You have an established guy out here who they gave a lot of money to, and it's good for the club that we added him. But at the same time, I know if I pitch well, I'm still capable of being one of the best five. Whether that happens or not, it's out of my hands, but I have to go out there and continue to pitch well."

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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