Rotating some thoughts about starting pitching in 2018

The mind can’t erase what happened last night, but it can skip ahead again.

Upon first glance of the 2018 schedule, I have to wonder why the Orioles are forced to play in Seattle between trips to Kansas City and Tampa. Not that I expect logic from Major League Baseball, but this is beyond ridiculous even by its standards.

A Thursday opener is a bit unusual, but it’s the product of the new collective bargaining agreement that provides more off-days. And before anyone asks, the open date that follows on March 30 is implemented in case of a rainout. It’s pretty standard.

The Orioles are in Boston for Patriots Day, the third time in the last five seasons, most recently in 2015. And no one inside the cramped visiting clubhouse celebrates a Monday morning game.

It ain’t Breakfast at Wimbledon.

The home-and-home series with the Nationals now totals six games instead of four and are spread out over two months. Maybe they can avoid a dry rainout in D.C. next year.

No trip to Miami, a real gut punch for lovers of South Beach, but the Marlins come to Baltimore. It’s not nearly the same.

Thanks to everyone who fought the urge to ask me for weather reports and probable starters. The latter might have been the hardest.

Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman will be part of the 2018 rotation. That’s the best I can do in September.

Wade Miley’s contract includes a $12 million option that on the surface seems much too rich for the club’s blood, especially if he’s projected for the back end of the rotation, but I’ve also heard the counterargument that, “it’s the going rate.”

Chris Tillman may have to settle for a pillow contract, a term coined for one-year deals between long-term contracts for established players to re-establish their value. Don’t count out the Orioles. But Tillman must decide whether it’s feasible while pitching in the American League East and at homer-happy Camden Yards.

Other pitchers in the same predicament have run screaming from the division.

Ubaldo Jiménez won’t be back. I’m eager to find out what kind of offer awaits him. It’s a safe bet that he won’t find another four-year, $50 million contract dangling in front of him.

Jeremy Hellickson also is a pending free agent after accepting the Phillies’ $17.2 million qualifying offer in November. He was viewed as a rental after the Orioles acquired him at the non-waiver deadline for outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, Double-A pitcher Garrett Cleavinger and international bonus slot money.

(Cleavinger posted a 5.28 ERA and 1.83 WHIP in 11 relief appearances with Reading and opponents batted .317 against him in 15 1/3 innings.)

The Orioles need a new plan. I’m not naïve to the point of expecting them to spend big on pitching, and trading for an ace, if one becomes available, requires the necessary prospects and the nerve to part with them. This won’t be easy, but they can’t go into the 2018 season again counting on their depth and hoping for bounceback seasons or strong finishes to somehow carry over to opening day.

Wright-Delivers-White-Sidebar.jpgDecisions must be made on Mike Wright and Chris Lee. Are they starters or relievers?

I’m assuming that Wright has a better chance of breaking camp in the bullpen. Lee, meanwhile, figured to emerge as a starting option for the Orioles this summer, his lat injury no longer holding him back, but he struggled and never seemed to find his stride until piggybacking other starters. The Orioles are now considering how he might be more effective in relief.

Cody Sedlock and Keegan Akin, last year’s top two picks in the First-Year Player Draft, were supposed to move quickly through the system. Injuries struck both of them - twice with Sedlock in the elbow/forearm area - along with stretches of ineffectiveness that kept them from advancing beyond Single-A Frederick.

Sedlock went 4-5 with a 5.90 ERA and 1.72 WHIP in 20 starts and opponents batted .313 against him in 90 innings. Akin went 7-8 with a 4.14 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 21 starts and opponents batted .240 in 100 innings.

Left-hander Tanner Scott could be a starting option down the road, but certainly not as the Orioles break camp. He’s still working on his control and refining his secondary pitches. The slider is much better. The Orioles won’t rush him.

I can hear eyes rolling among some of my colleagues when I include Hunter Harvey in this blog entry. I know he hasn’t risen above low Single-A Delmarva, missed the entire 2015 season and underwent ligament-reconstructive surgery on his elbow the following summer, but he’s recovered and the reports on him were glowing after he resumed pitching. Exactly how he was throwing before injuries felled him. Exactly why the Orioles made him their first-round pick in 2013.

Assuming there are no setbacks, Harvey will push for a roster spot next spring and the Orioles will try to resist and give him more innings in the minors. Maybe they start him at Bowie, though he’s never pitched above Delmarva. There will be, at the least, the temptation to put him in their bullpen as they did with Dylan Bundy last season and ease him into a heavier workload.

It will be one of the more intriguing storylines of spring training.

Miguel Castro is such a valuable weapon in the bullpen, a guy with a rubber arm who does more than just eat up innings. He gets outs. Imagine such a thing. But he must be viewed as rotation material next spring. Heck, give him a start later this month if the Orioles fall out of the wild card chase.

Gabriel Ynoa started on Saturday. Manager Buck Showalter is open to suggestions. Well, there’s one.

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