After his latest strong spring outing LHP Zach Britton continues to force the Baltimore Orioles hand. It was assumed heading into the spring that Britton would get a look, but ultimately be sent off to the minors to start the season. While that is still likely to be Britton’s fate, the young lefty is serving notice that he is indeed one of the best 5 starters on the club and that his time has come. The Orioles would be foolish to break camp with Britton on their opening day roster. If they wait to call up Britton until the end of April, they will gain an extra year of control over Britton before he is eligible for free agency. An argument can be made that the O’s need to break camp with the best team possible, but exchanging a year for what would amount for 2-3 starts is not a smart move.
The question is what do the Orioles do with their rotation at the end of April. Justin Duchscherer is a wild card. He is not going to be ready for the start of the season, but he is hopeful to be ready by April 10th, the first time the Orioles will need a 5th starter. With his status still in doubt it is a near certainty that Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman or Brad Bergesen will be the four man group to start the season. If Duchscherer is able to join the rotation on the 10th, the Orioles will have to decide if Duchsherer has earned a spot in the rotation, or stick with the starters listed above. What are the Orioles option should Duke not be ready to go, or someone like Bergy or Tillman is struggling?
At this point my best guess would be either Josh Rupe or Ryan Drese would get a shot. The Orioles are not going to go with guys like Troy Patton or Chorye Spoone, neither of who is ready to be a big league starter. There was hope at the beginning of the spring that Rick VandenHurk could pitch his way onto the roster, but he has struggled so far and is not likely to be kept on the roster. Beyond Britton there is not one else in the minors that is worthy of a look right now, so it is Rupe or Drese and not much else.
The best case scenario is that a combo of Guthrie, Matusz, Arrieta, Tillman or Bergesen and Duchscherer are all throwing well through April. That will leave the Orioles with a tough decision of who to pull from the rotation in order to call up Britton. The risk is that you crush the confidence of either Tillman or Bergesen by moving them to the bullpen or demoting them, so it is not cut and dry that the Orioles do either in favor of Britton come late April. Having pitching depth that is performing well is not a bad situation to be in, but it is not a likely for the Orioles. The chances are greater that Duchsherer will be hurt, or that either Tillman or Bergy will be struggling.
Britton’s strong performance has made the competition for the starting rotation more interesting, but it could also put the Orioles in a tricky spot if all the starters are performing up to their abilities. The club will, in all probability, need 6 starters to get through the season and it is good that Britton looks ready to step in when the team needs him. What is the best way for the Orioles to handle the rotation for the first month of the season?