Is there a more unsettled and fluid rotation among contenders than the one belonging to the Orioles?
Seriously, I’m asking here. And I’m not taking injuries into account.
Miguel Gonzalez is healthy, but he’s being pushed back to Thursday night against the White Sox at Camden Yards. Manager Buck Showalter has always handled him with care, to the point where he’s on a wacky schedule.
Gonzalez started on Aug. 20, pitched twice in relief and made his next start on Aug. 30 in New York, allowing seven runs and six hits in four innings. Now he’s getting an extra day before taking the mound again.
Gonzalez has a career 4.66 ERA on four days rest, compared to 2.72 on five days and 2.62 on six or more. In that regard, it makes sense to hold him until Thursday. But he might benefit from staying on a regular schedule as opposed to whatever’s going on with him at the present time.
Maybe I’m living in the distant past, where starters took on the ball on their normal turns - even in, gasp, four-man rotations - with little or no concerns about them wearing down in August and September, and without their innings being monitored. Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen apparently need to be eased through each season, which leads to the latest round of rotation roulette.
If we’re compiling a list of players in the organization whose stock is on the rise, left-hander Zach Britton belongs near the top, along with Josh Stinson, Caleb Joseph, Michael Ohlman and a few others. I’m not talking about prospects like Eduardo Rodriguez and Mike Wright. I’m referring to guys who needed to get back in a favorable position with team officials.
Britton was ushered out of major league camp in spring training, posted a 4.76 ERA in six starts with the Orioles after being recalled and again had to work his way back up from Triple-A Norfolk. Guys like Stinson and Kevin Gausman passed him on the depth chart, if that’s what we’re calling it, but he allowed two earned runs in his last two outings and 14 innings with the Tides, and the reports from his most recent start were the most positive of the year.
The Orioles want to see better command from Britton, a better glove and mental toughness. He figured to get that chance out of the bullpen, not in the rotation, but nothing is etched in stone on this team.
Britton has walked 15 and struck out 12 in 34 innings with the Orioles this season. Showalter will chew through the dugout railing if Britton keeps falling behind in the count and putting men on base tonight, especially after Chris Tillman walked a season-high five in 5 1/3 innings last night.
This is a big month for Britton, who’s out of minor league options next season. Can he pull a Tillman, who was out of options this spring and made the All-Star team, or will he be pushed out like Jake Arrieta? Do the Orioles bring him to spring training next year and give him a chance to earn a spot in the rotation or perhaps work in long relief, similar to what T.J. McFarland has done this season? Or do they try to find a trade partner over the winter, packaging him in deal to fill a need in the rotation or lineup?
These games are too important in the middle of a pennant race for anyone to be auditioning, but let’s be honest, the evaluation process is ongoing. Britton is here and in the rotation - for however long - to assist the Orioles in their quest for another postseason berth, but he also may be pitching for his future in this organization.
No pressure, of course.