Pitching a fit over the rotation

SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles are off today for the only time this spring, and unlike last year, manager Buck Showalter hasn’t arranged an intrasquad game to keep us busy. However, Jake Arrieta is scheduled to throw four innings at the minor league complex at Twin Lakes Park, so I’ll be heading over there around noon to make sure his arm doesn’t fall off.

Would it surprise anyone?

The pitching news here goes from good to bad within hours. One guy progresses and another guy regresses.

The Orioles had two setbacks last night that could impact their rotation. Alfredo Simon tweaked his groin again and Zach Britton was scratched from today’s game because of inflammation in his left shoulder.

I never projected Simon as part of the rotation, but Showalter hadn’t eliminated him from consideration.

Simon told reporters he could be sidelined for a week. Later, he predicted that he would make his next start. He hasn’t gone more than three innings in any appearance this spring, totaling seven in three games, so he needs to make a speedy recovery.

“He said it was a little tight,” Showalter said. “He said he didn’t feel confident pushing off, but he said he was fine to pitch. I didn’t really like that scenario a whole lot, so ... we’ve got arms. He may have continued during the season. We’ll see where we are with it on Tuesday. We erred on the side of caution (last night.)”

Showalter noticed that Simon was pitching a little more tentatively in the second inning, turned to pitching coach Rick Adair and said, “Something’s not right here.”

The same can be said for most of the staff, which has been beset by groin, hamstring and lower back ailments.

Britton was dealing with inflammation in the shoulder over the winter, forcing the Orioles to adjust his schedule in camp and slow his progression. He’s been fine lately and had no issues while going two innings in Thursday’s Triple-A game.

Britton wasn’t being handed a starting job this spring despite winning 11 games as a rookie in 2011, and he’s more likely to begin 2012 at extended spring training or Triple-A Norfolk. He still hasn’t pitched in a Grapefruit League game.

So where does this leave the rotation?

I’m still penciling in Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen. The Orioles could add a starter from outside the organization, go with one of the veterans they signed or traded for over the winter (Dana Eveland, Armando Galarraga) or keep one of the original members of the “cavalry” (Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Brad Bergesen.)

Hunter hasn’t worked a major league exhibition game, but he went four innings Friday in a minor league tilt and got his pitch count up to 65. He’s slated to start Wednesday against the Blue Jays. He says he’s ready for the season to begin.

Matusz has posted back-to-back gems, shutting out the Phillies and Tigers over eight combined innings and exhibiting much better velocity and command. If this trend continues - he’s scheduled to start Tuesday against the Phillies and Roy Halladay in Sarasota - and the Orioles still option him to Norfolk, it’ll be apparent that the plan all along was to give him more time in the minors after a disastrous 2011.

Tsyuoshi Wada threw two innings yesterday against the Braves in Orlando, raising his spring total to ... two. I’m not including him in the rotation mix at this point.

The Orioles need to find out why Britton can’t shake the inflammation bug. Why does this keep happening to him?

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