SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles' pitching picture begins to clear up, then it gets hazy again. It begins to clears up, then it gets hazy again.
It's pretty obvious that the Orioles are trying to find a way to keep left-hander T.J. McFarland, who won 16 games between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus last season before the Cleveland Indians left him exposed in the Rule 5 draft.
The Indians would take him back in a heartbeat if he passed through waivers. The Orioles aren't confident that they could work out a trade.
By my count, there are five scenarios that would enable McFarland to make the opening day roster. He could win the fifth starters job. He could be the second lefty in the bullpen, with Brian Matusz being named the fifth starter. The Orioles could option Matusz to Triple-A Norfolk. They could put Chris Tillman on the disabled list. They could make a trade to free up a spot in the bullpen.
The last one is the most probable outcome.
McFarland isn't going to be included in the rotation, and Matusz seems more likely to be the second lefty in the 'pen. Tillman is expected to avoid the DL, though it's not a slam dunk. That leaves a trade.
McFarland can sink the ball. That's one quality that really grabbed the attention of manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair. They like his stuff. And we already know that they're not afraid to carry a Rule 5 pick for an entire season.
As long as we're focusing on McFarland, he gets today's start against the Boston Red Sox in Sarasota. The Red Sox have changed starters more than once and appear to have settled on right-hander Graham Godfrey.
Miguel Gonzalez will face Boston's minor leaguers at Twin Lakes Park.
Jason Hammel still hasn't officially been named the opening day starter, but it's going to happen. We're just waiting here for confirmation.
Wei-Yin Chen and Gonzalez round out the top three in the rotation. Then it gets a little hazy again with Tillman being held out of Grapefruit League games just in case the Orioles need to backdate an assignment to the disabled list. Again, it probably won't happen, but there's a sliver of doubt about his availability when the Orioles break camp March 31.
We were confident here that Jake Arrieta had won a spot at the back end of the rotation, but Showalter didn't bite yesterday when given a chance to confirm it. It's interesting how Jair Jurrjens is forcing his way back into the discussion. The smart money is still on Arrieta, but the picture starts getting hazy again.
Whatever happens, you've got to love the pitching depth at the upper levels of the farm system.
The Pittsburgh Pirates appear to be in the market for a starting pitcher and the Orioles have arms to trade, but there doesn't seem to be a match. Pretty sure the Pirates are holding onto Andrew McCutchen.
The Orioles still want to improve the catching depth in their system, though they will always talk pitching.
OK, let's take a look at a few spring stats, beginning with Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy, who are a combined 5-for-53. Hardy is 4-for-35 with two home runs. Jones is 1-for-18.
Managers always warn us not to fall in love with spring stats. I guess you shouldn't loathe them, either.
Wilson Betemit was 5-for-32 with a home run before going 2-for-4 with two RBIs yesterday in Bradenton, raising his average to .194. Nate McLouth is 8-for-37 (.216) with a home run.
Alexi Casilla got off to a horrible start, but he's batting .289 after going 3-for-4 yesterday.
Steve Pearce collected two more hits and his sixth home run yesterday, leaving his average at .378 in 21 games. Lew Ford went 0-for-4 to lower his average from .438 to 389. Trayvon Robinson is batting .326 in 22 games. Conor Jackson is batting .313. Jason Pridie is batting .310. Chris Dickerson hit a grand slam in Bradenton and is batting .306.
These guys have been grouped together since the first day of spring training. May as well keep them together.
Matt Wieters is 13-for-31 (.419) with three homers and 12 RBIs in 13 games. Brian Roberts is 15-for-42 (.357) in 14 games.
Showalter hadn't looked at a stat sheet until a few days ago. He's only interested in plate appearances and innings. The rest of us can obsess over batting averages and ERAs.