Bullpen puzzle still unsolved

SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles are preparing for their final Grapefruit League game under the lights when they travel to Tampa to play the New York Yankees.

The clubhouse opens to the media at 2 p.m., so there’s no morning lineup to post. I’d expect plenty of regulars to make the trip after they were allowed to stay back in Sarasota yesterday, but shortstop J.J. Hardy won’t be among them. He’ll need another day off after receiving a cortisone injection in his aching right shoulder.

Jason Hammel will take the mound tonight, but I’m more interested in the relievers that follow. Pedro Strop, Darren O’Day and Troy Patton are listed as available pitchers, and they’re all fighting for roster spots.

The lefty situation is a real puzzler. Troy Patton hasn’t allowed a run in eight appearances and 9 1/3 innings, and he’s out of options. Zach Phillips has allowed only two runs in nine appearances and 11 1/3 innings, and he has an option remaining.

Advantage ... Patton? Your guess is as good as mine.

Patton retired all three batters he faced in Tuesday’s game against the Twins, and manager Buck Showalter mentioned how there hadn’t been many clean innings from him lately. Sure enough, Patton had walked a batter in each of his last two outings, gave up three hits in another, gave up a hit and walked a batter in another, and gave up two hits and walked a batter in another.

Phillips retired all three batters he faced yesterday in Dunedin, and Showalter mentioned how two of the balls were hit hard. Loud outs are noticed in the dugout.

Strop has been flawless in his last two appearances after stumbling badly against the Blue Jays on March 21 and giving up two hits in a scoreless inning against the Red Sox on March 17.

I expected the bullpen to be a complicated riddle because of all the candidates, and with so many of them being out of options. It hasn’t disappointed. Showalter can go in a lot of different directions.

Since a few readers asked, here’s the camp roster, which must be whittled down to 25 players by 5 p.m. on April 4. I’m not including Brian Roberts and Zach Britton, who are on the disabled list, so we’re looking at 33 names:

Wei-Yin Chen
Brian Matusz
Tsuyoshi Wada
Matt Lindstrom
Tommy Hunter
Chris Tillman
Jake Arrieta
Dana Eveland
Luis Ayala
Jason Hammel
Troy Patton
Jim Johnson
Pedro Strop
Pat Neshek
Alfredo Simon
Darren O’Day
Zach Phillips
Kevin Gregg

Matt Wieters
Ronny Paulino
Taylor Teagarden

J.J. Hardy
Ryan Flaherty
Robert Andino
Mark Reynolds
Chris Davis
Wilson Betemit
Nick Johnson

Endy Chavez
Adam Jones
Nolan Reimold
Nick Markakis
Jai Miller

Teagarden is likely headed to the disabled list. Miller isn’t expected to come north.

I think Tillman, Neshek and O’Day are ticketed for Norfolk, which takes us down to 28. Eveland, who didn’t help his cause yesterday, could be designated for assignment, clear waivers and join them. I don’t see Matusz and Wada both making the team. Wada could be kept back at extended spring training if Matusz wins a rotation spot.

Also keep in mind that I’m still anticipating that the Orioles make a trade.

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