DUNEDIN, Fla. - For the Orioles, it was another day and another good outing by a starter that is not guaranteed a spot in the opening day rotation. Jake Arrieta pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings today in the Orioles' 3-1 win over Toronto and the competition for the fifth starter's job is heating up.
Manager Buck Showalter spent most of a 10-minute postgame session with reporters talking about just that. At one point, he asked reporters who they would take, not that he needs any help from us.
Showalter knows decision time is coming soon and he is likely going to have to tell one or more pitchers that have pitched well that they have to go to the minor leagues.
"When those conversations come, they are going to be very frank and honest," Showalter said. "It's their lives, their careers. It is why you spend 30 minutes with them to let them know there is thought behind it. If you lie to a guy one time, he'll never forgive you and you've lost that relationship. Guess what? Sometimes he might be right and you might be wrong.
"As long as they take the disappointment in the right direction, I'm OK. And the direction is toward helping the Orioles win a championship. There are going to be some people that are capable of doing the job, but that is the whole idea about Triple-A, isn't it? We haven't had that issue much."
As for Arrieta today, he had another good outing, but once again struggled at times to get ahead in counts and ran too many deep counts for Showalter's liking. Still, the results were very good, Arrieta is right in the thick of this competition, and some think may be leading it.
"Good," Showalter said of Arrieta's start today. "I don't mean to be picky or anything, but that's an outing, carrying that kind of stuff, that he should go deep. Think he had seven three-ball counts. Only had, I think, eight of 20 first-pitch strikes. So there is room for improvement, but that tells you how good his stuff was today because he got by with it.
"I don't mean to be picky with Jake, but he gets in some counts that he shouldn't get that far in. Until he does that, he's not going to give that eight or nine innings when he should on a given night."
It seems like just about every starter recently has had a bit of a breakout outing. Showalter said he figures there is a good chance that continues and he will manage the game in Sarasota tomorrow to see Steve Johnson make his case. The Orioles will split the squad tomorrow, with some players traveling to Clearwater for a game with the Phillies, but Showalter wants to check out Johnson at Ed Smith Stadium.
O's pitching coach Rick Adair will travel to Clearwater Sunday to watch Jason Hammel's outing and Triple-A Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin will serve as pitching coach for the game in Sarasota.
But in getting back to the starter competition, Showalter was asked today if left-right will be a potential tiebreaker. In other words, with so many candidates pitching well, could he favor a lefty to give the Orioles two southpaws in the opening day rotation?
"You know what?" he said, pausing. "I am going to say no, but a lot depends how our bullpen shakes out, too. For instance, if you had three left-handed starters, the importance of having a second left-hander in the bullpen is not that strong."
Today in Dunedin, the choice the O's will soon have to make didn't get any easier as another hurler pitched a strong game with exactly two weeks of spring training games remaining.