The McFarland debate

SARASOTA, Fla. - Before the Orioles decide whether to keep Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland, they must figure out where to pitch him during these final weeks in camp.

“There’s two thoughts,” explained manager Buck Showalter. “Do you pitch him against teams up here and let scouts see him so they claim him? Do you hide him out, but not get a proper evaluation and pitch him somewhere else? The whole idea is to get the best evaluation of him here against the best competition, so he’ll continue to pitch for us.

“Somebody brought that point up and I thought it was a pretty good one.”

The only way for the Orioles to option McFarland is if he passes through waivers and the Orioles can work out a trade with the Cleveland Indians.

“First of all, I don’t think Cleveland’s going to trade with us,” Showalter said. “He’s been impressive. I’m anxious to see him again.”

The Orioles had the same issues with infielder Ryan Flaherty last spring. The Chicago Cubs wanted him back.

Flaherty stayed on the roster all season. The popular theory this spring is that McFarland will be harder to keep because the roster has fewer openings.

Showalter isn’t buying into it.

“We did it last year,” he said. “You can make open spots.”

Isn’t the roster more set this spring?

“Maybe in your mind, from what went on last year in the bullpen, for instance,” Showalter replied. “We’re still stretching him out. We’re going to try to get him to four innings here.

“If he’s the right guy... Like I said before, you can’t carry a Rule 5 guy pitching if you’re going to hide him and try to protect him. That’s why you see a lot of one-inning relievers, left-on-left guys, taken as Rule 5 guys.”

Asked if it’s more difficult to carry one in the rotation or bullpen, Showalter said, “I wouldn’t handicap either one. If anything, it’s probably harder to keep them in the bullpen. They’ve got to pitch. They’re going to pitch. And we didn’t feel like we had to protect Ryan, even though we were a little cautious early on.

“If ever there was a perfect scenario for a Rule 5, it was probably Ryan last year. This guy started for us in the playoffs. He’s still got a big upside.”

McFarland might have a better chance of making the club if Brian Matusz wins the fifth starter competition. McFarland could go to the bullpen as a second lefty. Otherwise, the Orioles would have to remove Tommy Hunter, who’s out of options, and let McFarland be the long man in the ‘pen.

It remains one of the more interesting story lines in camp, and the intrigue grows as McFarland strings together solid outings.

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