Camping out in Sarasota

SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles used 26 different pitchers last season. That may seem like a lot, but imagine if they had used the same one. The poor guy would have been exhausted and practically living with Dr. James Andrews.

Yes, that's renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews to you and me.

Nineteen different pitchers recorded wins in 2013, tying the 2001 and 2012 clubs for the second-most in franchise history. The 2011 team had 20 pitchers win a game.

Not the same game, of course. It was 20 different ones.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I'm running out of blog ideas. For the love of God, SIGN SOMEONE!

But seriously, I'm in Sarasota today - as you probably figured out from the dateline - to check out the mini-camp and see how it differs from a regular-sized camp. I also wanted to observe the bonding process between new pitching coach Dave Wallace and the members of his staff who are participating.

It won't happen in one day, in part because pitchers could be trickling into the Ed Smith Stadium complex all week. Many of them will arrive today, but others could lag behind. And it takes more than one day to find that comfort zone and form that bond.

Also, no one has invited me to pull up a chair and watch. And it's not as though they will spend every minute of every day on the back fields, in full view of stalkerish reporters such as myself. It could happen in the weight room, the trainers room, at lunch or dinner. It could happen in the express line at Publix.

The Orioles used 54 players and made 176 roster moves last season. Wallace will remind his pitchers that opportunity is just around the corner or a phone call away. Or maybe a quick text or e-mail.

He's probably not on Twitter.

However it's done, he'll continue to preach that there's no such thing as having too many arms or too much competition.

"There's never too many young arms," he said, in case you didn't believe me.

"We had a case a couple years ago in the minor leagues when one of the young pitching coaches in rookie ball said, 'What am I going to do? I've got 16 pitchers.' Well, I sat that night and watched the game go 19 innings, and after the game he goes, 'Hey, we need more pitching.' And I said, 'Don't ever say that again before a game.' But the reality of it is, you're going to go north with 12, but I think we have to take the long-term approach. And it's a marathon, so we're going to need a lot more than 12 arms.

"The point from our standpoint is going to be, 'Hey guys, we're going to need help. There's going to be some guys who are going to get opportunities here. We don't know you are, we don't know how it's going to happen, but we can guarantee you that there's probably going to be a whole bunch of opportunities to come up and help the major league club. Now, when that opportunity comes, hopefully you're the ones who are going to be ready.'"

Which 12 pitchers will go north? It's too soon to know, especially as we wait for executive vice president Dan Duquette to sign another starter and perhaps add a reliever.

Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, Tommy Hunter, Darren O'Day, Ryan Webb, Brian Matusz and Troy Patton are a guaranteed nine - barring a trade - though Patton will miss the first 25 games while serving his suspension, so he won't be on the opening day roster. That actually takes us down to eight.

You know the cast of in-house candidates to fill other spots. They include Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman, Steve Johnson, T.J. McFarland, Brad Brach, Liam Hendriks, Chris Jones, Edgmer Escalona, Josh Stinson and Mike Belfiore. And that's just from the 40-man roster.

How many of them will benefit from fresh eyes? How many will make the Tillman leap, as the right-hander did in 2013?

"I think everybody talks about that, and that's a lot easier said than done," Wallace said. "I think each pitcher has his own maturation rate. Some guys are going to take off as soon as they get to the major leagues, and some guys are going to have to take maybe two or three seasons to settle in and be as good as they can be. I wish there was an answer and a definite path for each one of these guys, but there's just not.

"You're hoping the Kevin Gausmans and the Dylan Bundys and the Chris Tillmans of the world go ahead and keep taking off. But to learn in the AL East against that competition two-thirds of the time is really difficult, but that's why we believe so much in getting to know the guys and their makeup and how they want to compete.

"I think they're ready to take off. Hopefully, they do it. And yes, we're going to have some growing pains because that's what youth is, but also it's those guys that learn at the major league level that get better at that level, as well."

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