Irvin's entrance opens more questions about Orioles rotation

The immediate reaction to yesterday’s Cole Irvin trade centered on whether he could start for the Orioles on opening day and how his arrival impacted the other rotation candidates.

All of this is according to an industry source with direct knowledge of my mind.

Also, can we confidently say now that the search is over – a nod to “Survivor” – and the Orioles relinquished interest in Michael Wacha and every other starter?

Space is really tight. They might have to build an addition onto the rotation. But never turn away from the spring waiver wire.

The Orioles don’t own a true No. 1 starter with John Means unavailable until probably June or July. Irvin doesn’t qualify, which appears to set up an intense and fascinating camp battle.

I’ve mentioned how the club might line up its starters based on matchups for the opening series at Fenway Park, perhaps deterring it from handing the ball to Irvin before the Orioles head to Texas. Or at least in the first game. But Means has earned the assignment in the past. There are exceptions, of course.

Irvin is more durable than Wacha in a much, much smaller sample size, making 62 starts over the past two seasons with Oakland and averaging around 180 innings. He carries a lifetime 4.40 ERA in 81 games, but that mark is 3.34 at RingCentral Coliseum – the latest branding of a spacious and crappy ballpark.

Manager Brandon Hyde might prefer to break up his right-handers rather than stack four in a row. Or maybe he doesn’t care and it just comes down to which pitchers earn the highest slots. The last men standing.

A colleague wondered yesterday whether Grayson Rodriguez’s chances of making the rotation took a major hit or even a glancing blow. Just speculating here, I still believe that he’d have to pitch his way off the team. His camp would need to go up in flames like the onion volcano at Benihana.

The Orioles will monitor Rodriguez’s innings since he’s never pitched in the majors and his 2022 season stalled for three months due to a lat strain. They also must be careful with Tyler Wells, who made the conversion back to starter last season but had two stints on the injured list. Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish haven’t worked a full major league season. DL Hall made one start in 2022, went back down to Triple-A and returned in September as a reliever.

“I think the limits are not going to be hard and fast, and we’re going to be smart about how we work these guys,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said last week on 105.7 The Fan. “We’re going to look at things on a case-by-case basis, and I think that’s going to depend on where the team’s at, where the pitchers themselves are at.

“We don’t want to get in a situation where we’re just shutting down one of our best pitchers in the middle of August because he ran out of innings. There’s no real science behind that, either. There’s nothing that’s ever proven that throwing more innings leads to injury. This is just kind of baseball people trying to use common sense, and I think that we’re going to bring our brains to workload management for our pitching staff this year, and hopefully, we get those guys out there pitching as much as possible.”

Kremer, Bradish and Wells seemed like locks for the 2023 rotation as they packed their bags and headed home, but someone will be moved to the bullpen or the minors if Rodriguez stays. Wells could return to the relief role he handled as a Rule 5 pick, but the Orioles lauded his work last season and he was their most consistent starter in the first half.

Maybe Wells is the guy who’s most impacted. Hall could feel the same, though he might have been squeezed out prior to yesterday’s trade.

Austin Voth, who avoided arbitration yesterday, already figured to be more of a long reliever and occasional starter. The guaranteed contract, last year’s unexpected contributions and the lack of minor league options put him on the roster.

Does the money automatically push him into a more prominent role? You can't see me, but I'm shrugging.

Having Irvin and Kyle Gibson on the staff gives the Orioles two starters whom they can count on to tote a heavy load. They’ll do so while tapping their knuckles on the nearest piece of wood.

Irvin’s 181 innings last season would have led the Orioles. His 30 starts would have ranked second behind Jordan Lyles’ 32.

The Anaheim native tied his career high with 15 quality starts, and his 14.4 pitches per inning were the second-fewest in the American League. His 1.79 walks per nine innings ranked sixth among qualified American League pitchers. 

Irvin faced the Orioles twice in his career and held them to two runs in 10 1/3 innings. In his lone start at Camden Yards in 2021, he allowed one run and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings in a 3-1 win.

Gibson was signed to work near the back end of the rotation, but he might be the first guy on the mound March 30. There’s logic to it, and counterpoints. No one is a perfect solution, which is why Kremer, Bradish or someone else could blow away opposing hitters in spring training and force the issue.

Irvin was a favorite to start on opening day if he stayed with the A’s, but he’ll walk into a different situation at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.

The deal also netted reliever Kyle Virbitsky, whose 140 strikeouts led Oakland’s minor leaguers, and cost the Orioles shortstop Darell Hernaiz, the No. 16 prospect in the system per

Elias was willing to dip into his prospect stash for a starter, but he managed to hold onto Jordan Westburg, Joey Ortiz and Connor Norby.

It would take more than Irvin to part with one of them.

There certainly was a time when a talent like Hernaiz would have been marked as untouchable. He also would have ranked much higher than 16th. But prospect times have changed in Baltimore.

Pitcher Noah Denoyer, who joined the 40-man roster in November, moved into Pipeline’s top 30 with Hernaiz exiting it. The right-hander’s name appears at the bottom.

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