Orioles approaching decision on fifth starter

MILWAUKEE – The latest road trip ends today with Kyle Bradish starting for the Orioles. Tyler Wells is next in line, pitting him against the Royals.

The Orioles will confirm Wells in today’s game notes but might list Saturday as TBA because they aren’t ready to commit to a fifth starter.

A decision is pending, and the Orioles probably have their choices laid out in front of them.

Grayson Rodriguez isn’t eligible to return unless he’s replacing an injured player. We can excuse him from this discussion.

Rodriguez is allowed to come back after the weekend and he’s basically in reset mode with Triple-A Norfolk, with his next start scheduled for Saturday night but vulnerable to another change following a second postponement last night due to the air quality in Scranton-Wilkes/Barre. His absence isn’t expected to be prolonged. He just needed to work on fastball command and maybe regain whatever confidence might have chipped away.

Whether this really can be done against International League hitters, well, that’s another debate for another day. Success at any level is a good thing. But Rodriguez needs to experience it consistently with the Orioles rather than win an ERA title with Norfolk.

If the Orioles dip into the minors, they could reel in Cole Irvin from the Tides.

Irvin was scheduled to start Friday for Norfolk, following Drew Rom in the rotation, but he also could be pushed back again due to the latest postponement. He’s allowed eight runs with two walks and 18 strikeouts in his last five starts over 31 innings.

Again, this is dominance a level below, but he won’t make the jump without it. And he walked eight batters in 13 innings with the Orioles. They needed to see strikes from him, even if the chase is more pronounced in the minors.

So yes, Irvin is a possibility. The Orioles didn’t surrender infield prospect Darell Hernaiz, who began yesterday batting .339/.402/.500 in 44 games with Double-A Midland, so that Irvin could bolster Norfolk’s rotation.

The in-house options are pretty clear, as well, dwindling after last night.

Left-hander Bruce Zimmermann is in the bullpen to provide length and he'd be a simple solution for the rotation. No corresponding move necessary. Just hand him the ball if he’s available.

Except, of course, that he pitched last night, replacing Dean Kremer in the sixth and working three innings. He's out of the competition.

“At best, I’d say it’s in the back of my mind,” Zimmermann said earlier in the day. “Obviously, there’s a lot of days before then that I could be used and can be called upon and need to perform and get outs. If that happens, it happens. If not, take it one day at a time as a bullpen role. Somewhat new to me.

“Just trying to focus on the day to day and what the lineup’s looking like, and just switching to that mindset of tonight is more important than four nights from now, three nights from now, two nights from now.”

Zimmermann has appeared in two games with the Orioles, tossing two scoreless relief innings in San Francisco and allowing four runs last night. He hasn’t started for them since June 15, 2022 in Toronto, when he allowed six runs and 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings and was optioned.

In his last start with Norfolk, Zimmermann shut out Memphis on four hits and struck out eight batters in six innings.

I must mention here that he’s local or risk a heavy fine.

“The last couple outings especially down in Norfolk, really saw a lot of the things we’ve been working on come together,” he said. “I was able to go deep in the game, throwing all my pitches for strikes. So, yeah, a good time for a call up in my opinion. I was really feeling strong about my pitch arsenal and how I was attacking hitters, so it came at a good time.”

Zimmermann will hope for better times ahead. He did spare the 'pen last night by covering the last three frames.

"That's the only bright spot of the night, honestly, was, some of our bullpen guys that have pitched quite a bit got a night off," said manager Brandon Hyde.

Who’s excited about the idea of another opener/bullpen game? Anyone?

The Orioles could decide on it again after Keegan Akin handled the first inning on May 31 against the Guardians, followed by Austin Voth’s 2 1/3 innings and a total of seven pitchers used in a 12-8 loss.

How the latest version looks depends a lot on the bullpen’s workload prior to Saturday. Can’t use a specific bulk guy if he’s already taxed.


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