If you think there has been spring training competition for starting rotation spots for the Orioles, well, that is not the only pitching competition that has been taking place in ballparks throughout Florida the last few weeks.
The Orioles likely have seven spots for their bullpen and probably, right now, 10 to 11 solid candidates for those spots.
Barring a trade, which quite possibly could be coming, here is my plan to keep all 11 players in the organization with opening day approaching.
First off, here are my six right-handers for the bullpen: Jim Johnson to close along with Matt Lindstrom, Luis Ayala, Kevin Gregg, Alfredo Simon and Pedro Strop. My only lefty in the pen is Troy Patton. I would have to think there is a decent chance of a Gregg deal so the Orioles could open another spot for another pitcher, but we’ll see on that.
Patton, Simon and Strop are out of options. No way should the O’s risk losing an arm like Strop and I don’t think the others will have to be put through waivers either. Simon, if healthy after dealing with a groin injury, could be a long man out of the ‘pen and Patton could pitch multiple innings also.
On my list, that sends Darren O’Day, Zach Phillips and Pat Neshek - who all have at least one option remaining - to the minors, at least for now.
I included Tsuyoshi Wada on my list of 11 for the bullpen, although he could still leave camp as a member of the starting rotation.
Wada could go to the minors, but must approve being optioned. Since he missed some time during camp and still appears to be adjusting to pitching in the majors, maybe a Triple-A start would be the best thing for him. Build up some innings there and get more work in. Then he is ready to join the team either in the rotation or ‘pen pending early-season developments.
It could also be that Patton and Phillips are competing for one spot as the only lefty, or one of two, in the ‘pen. Both have pitched well in camp and there may not be much difference between them except Phillips can be optioned out and that would allow the Orioles to keep both players, at least at the start of the year.
To me, Patton has done about all he can to earn a spot on the team with his performance this month coupled with what he did last year. The lone player left from the Miguel Tejada trade with Houston in December 2007, Patton went 2-1 with an ERA of 3.00 last year for the Orioles. He pitched to an ERA of 2.88 in 20 games against the American League East. That is impressive. He was a starter until last year, but may have found his niche in the bullpen.
In they are in the minors, Neshek, O’Day and Phillips would give the Orioles some nice options at Norfolk along with Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken, and maybe Chris Tillman, for spots in Baltimore later. The Orioles seem to truly be building some decent pitching depth.
Dana Eveland was designated for assignment yesterday. If he is not traded, I suspect there is a decent chance that he clears waivers and remains with the club at Norfolk. That would not be a bad thing at all to have a lefty at Triple-A to add depth, especially one that could start.
What is your take?: What do you think about the possible makeup of the Orioles’ bullpen? Should the club work to keep players without options and not expose them to waivers? Which pitchers will play key roles in that ‘pen this year?