Tillman’s time is now

As we attempt to piece together the Orioles rotation for 2013, we must keep in mind that Chris Tillman is out of minor league options.

Tillman can’t be sent down if he isn’t deemed worthy of a starting job, and he’s never pitched in relief. Fifty-one major league appearances, 51 starts.

The Orioles have placed other starters in the bullpen, including Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz, but they’ve always resisted changing Tillman’s role, even if only temporarily.

Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez would appear to be locks for the rotation. Tillman most certainly has the inside track on one of the two remaining spots after winning a career-high nine games this year - six more than his previous high - and posting a 2.93 ERA in 86 innings. But there’s lots of competition.

Executive vice president Dan Duquette will continue to search for more pitching. Meanwhile, Arrieta, Matusz, Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter and Steve Johnson are in the mix, barring any trades. Tsuyoshi Wada must be given consideration once he’s fully recovered from ligament-reconstructive surgery on his left elbow. Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman aren’t likely to break camp with the team, but we could see them in Baltimore this summer.

Matusz, of course, could remain a left-handed specialist in the bullpen. It’s an extremely nice alternative for the Orioles. And Hunter brought a lot of appeal pumping upper-90s fastballs for an inning or two in relief.

That’s one way to keep his home run totals down.

It will be interesting to see what a healthy Britton brings to the table. His left shoulder wasn’t right when he reported to spring training and he faded from the picture in September, taking the loss in Oakland on Sept. 15 and not making another appearance until the final regular-season game on Oct. 3.

Give him the ball and a clean slate in February and let’s see what happens.

The Orioles have plenty of options. They can’t say the same about Tillman.

Should be interesting.

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