Dillon Atkinson: Orioles have tough decisions to make with pitching additions looming

As many fans have already noticed, the Orioles have gone with an odd roster to start the 2017 season. In most years, the Birds roll with five starting pitchers, seven relief pitchers and 13 hitters. This year, the roster was announced, and it wasn’t a familiar look: three starting pitchers, eight relievers and 14 hitters. The club was able to do this because they don’t need to add the other two starting pitchers until April 9 and April 15, respectively. Manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette need to determine what corresponding moves need to be made when they summon the two starting pitchers.

The first starter to be added is likely going to be left-hander Wade Miley, who was placed on the disabled list to start the season, but is planning to be activated by April 9 in order to make his first start as the Orioles’ No. 4 starter. The second starter, which will be needed April 15, is a toss-up between the following pitchers: right-handers Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright, Gabriel Ynoa, Logan Verrett, Joe Gunkel and Alec Asher, and left-handers Vidal Nuño, Jayson Aquino and Chris Lee. Some have better chances than others, and Showalter may already have his mind set on who will get the start, but it’s worth noting all nine who have a chance at getting the start. Wilson and Nuño are currently on the Orioles roster as relievers. If one of those two are chosen to make the start, a corresponding move won’t be needed as long as the player previously demoted to make room for Miley is a position player. If the player removed for Miley is a relief pitcher, then the O’s would need to make a move to add the next starter, even if it is Wilson or Nuño.

So who could get the first boot on Sunday, April 9? For the first corresponding move, it could come from either the bullpen or the bench. In the bullpen, we can safely assume that Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart have secured spots. That leaves us with Wilson, Nuño and right-hander Oliver Drake, who could be on the chopping block. Wilson and Nuño each have a minor league option remaining, but Drake, 30, is out of options and will have to be designated for assignment in order to be removed from the roster. As for the bench players, catcher Caleb Joseph and infielder Ryan Flaherty have nothing to worry about, as their jobs are safe. Remaining are right-handed hitting outfielders Joey Rickard, Trey Mancini and Craig Gentry.

If either Wilson or Nuño is supposed to make the April 15 start for the Orioles, the decision would seem easy to demote a bench player for Miley, that way the O’s wouldn’t need to make a second corresponding move on April 15. However, choosing one of Rickard, Mancini and Gentry for demotion is likely more difficult than choosing one of Wilson, Nuño and Drake. As seen on opening day, Showalter enjoys being able to utilize the skills of all three right-handed hitting outfielders. In late innings, the O’s skipper used Rickard in left field as a defensive upgrade over Hyun Soo Kim. Then in a tie game in extra innings and with a left-hander on the mound, Mancini pinch-hit for right fielder Seth Smith. Mancini hit a single, Gentry pinch-ran for him and then entered the game as an upgrade defensively in right field.

So who do you remove? You could option Rickard and stick with Mancini and Gentry to hold down the platoons with Smith and Kim, respectively. Or you could get rid of Gentry to roll with Rickard and Mancini, but Gentry is out of options and must be placed on waivers to be removed from the O’s roster. Or lastly, the O’s could option Mancini to Double-A Bowie or Triple-A Norfolk. This choice would benefit the club’s outfield on defense, and would also help a young, progressing Mancini to get everyday reps hitting and getting used to the outfield.

Whether or not it’s the right move is definitely up for debate, but I predict Mancini will be optioned to either Double-A or Triple-A. He’s proven that he can hit both, so Double-A might be the route the Orioles choose for him just because of the fact that Bowie is closer to Baltimore than Norfolk is, and the O’s may not want him that far away.

If the O’s choose to use a starter on April 15 that is not Wilson or Nuño, their decision is likely a little bit easier. They can easily option Wilson or Nuño, or they can choose to designate Drake for assignment. Even if Drake is claimed, the O’s have always done well with finding bullpen arms out of nowhere that end up doing well. Let’s not forget: Britton was a failed starter, O’Day was a waiver claim, Givens was a failed shortstop prospect and Brach was acquired in a low-profile trade for a pitcher that hasn’t seen time above high-A ball since 2014.

The Orioles have a tough decision to make on who to remove from their bench when Miley returns. If you’re the one making the call, what do you do: option Rickard, option Mancini or designate Gentry for assignment?

Dillon Atkinson blogs about the Orioles for Orioles Uncensored. Follow him on Twitter: @DAtkinsonOU. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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