A look at one potential starting five for the Orioles

We know the Orioles will need better starting pitching to contend for the playoffs in 2014. Their starting pitcher ERA was 4.42 when they made the playoffs in 2012 and slipped to 4.57 last year which ranked 12th in the American League.

We know the starters need to go deeper in games, but the O’s starters actually pitched about the same number of innings the last two seasons, going 937 2/3 innings two years ago and 939 innings last season.

So far there have not been any key additions to that rotation. The five on the roster today I would start the season with are Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and Kevin Gausman.

Tillman is the poster-child for young pitchers that struggle. After three straight seasons with an ERA of 5.40 or above, he has gone 25-10 with an ERA of 3.48 over 48 starts the last two years. He became the first O’s starting pitcher to make the All-Star team since Mike Mussina in 1999.

He’ll turn 26 in April and some seem ready to proclaim him a No. 1 pitcher in the making. That may be a little bit of a stretch at this point, but after throwing 206 1/3 innings last year, Tillman is the team’s best right now. The 33 homers allowed provides a mild concern, although 24 came at Camden Yards.

Most teams would gladly take a pitcher that went 11-8 with a 3.78 ERA over 171 1/3 innings last year that is not even arbitration-eligible yet. That is Gonzalez and the Orioles have a .605 winning percentage (26-17) when Gonzalez has started the last two years. But he pitched to an ERA of 6.32 in the fifth through seventh innings of his starts, a potential big red flag. Maybe, new pitching coach Dave Wallace can help him improve in that area.

A strained oblique kept Chen from matching his innings total of 192 2/3 innings from 2012 and he finished with 137 innings last year. Most of his stats were very similar to the year before and he went 7-7 with a 4.07 ERA. Chen also would hit a wall at times in the sixth or seventh inning. Can he get deeper into games in 2014? That will be a big question for him to answer.

Most have Norris penciled into the rotation right now but he’ll have to pitch better than he did after joining the Orioles to stay there. He went 4-3 with a 4.80 ERA but allowed 4.3 walks per nine innings and 10.8 hits producing a whopping 1.678 WHIP. That is simply too high.

But Norris also showed a fastball that could touch 94, 95 mph and a sharp-breaking slider that can be a real weapon. He had, at times, swing-and-miss stuff and averaged 10.1 strikeouts per nine. Hopefully the late season elbow discomfort he dealt with that forced him to miss a start is all behind him.

Gausman is an interesting young pitcher. Some fans see him and project a pitcher ready to take the next step toward the top of the rotation. Others see a hurler not ready that needs more minor league seasoning. I’m more in the first group. The guy hit the high 90s with a plus changeup, a pretty strong combination and the slider is headed toward becoming a very solid third pitch.

He still needs some experience which only comes with innings. Can he finish his development at the major league level or is that too big of a risk?

The assumption always seems to be that the same pitchers will pitch the same next year. But what if some pitch better? Some could pitch worse as well.

Here are the top five starters’ ERAs on the Red Sox and Orioles from last year:

Boston: 1.74, 3.52, 3.75, 4.32 and 4.57
Orioles: 3.71, 3.78, 4.07, 4.27 and 4.97.

Other potential rotation options on the team currently include Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, Brian Matusz, T.J. McFarland, Josh Stinson and Liam Hendriks.

What is your starting five among the pitchers currently on the roster?

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