Opening Day is less than three weeks away and the Orioles remain on hold with their most important roster decisions before flying to Boston.
Don’t ask them about the five starters in their rotation or the composition of an eight-man bullpen. Don’t ask about the primary backup for first baseman Ryan Mountcastle or whether a non-roster invite could be introduced on March 30 or put feet on the orange carpet for the first home game.
They just don’t know.
I still don’t know how Tyler Wells got bumped from the five leading candidates to start after his impressive first half in 2022, except that someone must go and the Orioles have Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer and Grayson Rodriguez. Rodriguez starts this afternoon against the Red Sox's split-squad in Sarasota.
What in the world would have happened if DL Hall hadn't experienced lower-back discomfort before arriving in camp, which prevented him from accumulating the necessary innings to be a starter?
Wells, obviously, could remain a starter. He hasn’t been eliminated from the competition, and his recovery Thursday from the leadoff home run surrendered to Philadelphia’s Bryson Stott reminded us of how good he can be, with the next three batters striking out.
The other choices are to put Wells back in the ‘pen, where he resided as a Rule 5 pick and evolved into a high-leverage guy, or option him so that he can start with Triple-A Norfolk. I’ll present the same argument as I did with Hall: He's too much of a weapon to remove him from the roster. But I’ll also recognize the value in developing younger pitchers in the minors, in their projected roles, rather than using them to fill a particular need in the majors.
Eh. I’m still pro-Wells and pro-Hall in the ‘pen if they aren’t starting. Agree to disagree.
My mock rotation remains Gibson, Irvin, Bradish, Kremer and Rodriguez, while not feeling good about Wells’ exclusion.
The five bullpen locks dwindled to three with Dillon Tate headed to the injured list and Félix Bautista still waiting to pitch in his first game. But he’s expected to debut on March 16 and that’s ample time to get him ready, whether in Grapefruit League games or on the back fields.
Mychal Givens, Cionel Pérez and Bryan Baker are in, Austin Voth doesn’t have any options left and can help the Orioles as a long reliever and occasional starter, and Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi has intrigued the Orioles to the point where he could be better than 50-50 to head north. I’ll say again, as others have done, that they really like his stuff.
Politi isn’t the only mock complication. What fun would that be in the second week of March?
The Orioles want as many innings-eaters in the ‘pen as they can reasonably carry, especially early with starters needing to be stretched out carefully. Keegan Akin drew heavy praise from Hyde on Thursday and he’s left-handed, so I’m fairly confident that he’s going to be in Boston.
This is where it really gets muddled, because we don’t know if Wells is bullpen-bound or whether the Orioles would slip into reverse and break camp with Hall as a reliever. And there are Spenser Watkins, Bruce Zimmermann and Mike Baumann to consider. Watkins starts Monday's split-squad game against the Braves in North Port, with the Orioles wanting to stretch him out to four innings.
The most highly anticipated news for me regarding the Opening Day roster is what the Orioles do about Wells, Hall and Politi.
Right behind it is whether a non-roster left-handed hitter can crash the party. I’m looking at you, Ryan O’Hearn and Lewin Díaz and Franchy Cordero and Josh Lester. Only room for one at the most, unless there’s an injury to a guy on the 40-man roster.
If Terrin Vavra sat on baseball’s proverbial bubble, he seemed to hop off with his torrid start at the plate and workouts at first base to present himself as even more of a viable option. Kyle Stowers and Ryan McKenna appear set as extra outfielders, with the former likely to get plenty of starts as the designated hitter.
I’ll continue to jokingly mourn the loss of any backup catcher drama.
The club must love its depth with Anthony Bemboom, Mark Koloszvary and Maverick Handley. They also had Ramón Rodriguez in camp as a non-roster invite before reassigning him Thursday
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