Still seeking roster clarity

SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles are making their first trip to Bradenton tonight, which is pretty unusual. It’s typically one of our first stops.

Tommy Hunter will make his second Grapefruit League start after allowing two runs and five hits over five innings against the Blue Jays on March 21.

As spring training winds down - only 10 games remain if you count the two against college teams and the finale at Triple-A Norfolk - the 25-man roster still hasn’t come into complete focus.

Barring a trade, I’m making the assumption that Hunter, Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel are in the rotation. Hunter has an option left, but he can eat up innings. That quality is especially needed without Jeremy Guthrie on the staff.

Brian Matusz appears to have the inside track on the fifth spot, but none of the beat writers here are convinced that the decision has been made. Candidates such as Zach Britton, Alfredo Simon and Armando Galarraga have faded because of injuries or ineffectiveness. Tsuyoshi Wada seemed to fall too far behind because of his sore elbow, but he’s back in the mix and scheduled to start Tuesday against the Twins in Sarasota.

Chris Tillman has emerged as one of manager Buck Showalter’s favorites in camp, and he’s allowed only three earned runs in 9 1/3 innings - and one in his last 7 1/3 - so I’m hesitant to completely dismiss his chances. Not everyone agrees with me.

Tillman hasn’t gone more than 3 1/3 innings in any appearance, and he’ll come out of the bullpen again on Tuesday.

The bullpen picture also remains fuzzy. For now, you’d have to pencil in Jim Johnson, Kevin Gregg, Matt Lindstrom and Luis Ayala. Pedro Strop is out of options and he impressed last September, but he’s produced only one clean inning in his seven spring appearances, though five of them are scoreless.

Pat Neshek still hasn’t allowed a run in seven games. Has anyone noticed?

Darren O’Day has been limited to three games because of a groin injury. Neshek would appear to have the edge.

As for the left-handers, Troy Patton hasn’t been scored upon in seven outings. Zach Phillips, who has an option remaining, has allowed two runs in nine innings, with two walks and seven strikeouts.

The Orioles will need at least one long man, and it could be Wada if he’s not a starter, though he’d be adapting to a new role along with the switch from Japan to the majors. Simon also must be considered if he’s healthy - he threw a bullpen session yesterday, and he’s out of options - along with Brad Bergesen, who has one option left. And let’s not forget Dana Eveland, who starts on Wednesday and also is out of options.

At least one trade has to be brewing.

Showalter didn’t dismiss Berken yesterday, but the right-hander has some serious catching up to do.

The bench is more clear. If a deal isn’t made that impacts it, you can figure on the backup catcher (most likely Ronny Paulino), Endy Chavez, Nick Johnson and Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty. I’m making Nolan Reimold the starter in left field in this scenario, but Chavez will get plenty of starts. And I’ve got Wilson Betemit serving as the designated hitter, though Johnson often will be used in that role if he stays off the disabled list.

Later today, manager Buck Showalter is expected to reveal the post-spring training plans for second baseman Brian Roberts. Since Roberts hasn’t played in a single exhibition game, it’s evident that “opening day leadoff hitter” isn’t realistic. The assumption is he’ll stay back in extended spring training.

The clubhouse opens to the media at 2 p.m. today, so I’ll post the lineup later than usual. Nick Markakis will start in right field. Chavez may return from his groin injury, though he wasn’t on the travel roster yesterday.

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