Will the Orioles find their starting pitcher this week?

SARASOTA, Fla. - Orioles outfielder Joey Rickard can be added to the list of position players who reported early to camp, joining a group that includes Adam Jones, Tim Beckham, Anthony Santander and Trey Mancini.

Rickard is competing for a spot as an extra outfielder, whether he’s platooning in right field with an unidentified left-handed hitter or serving as a backup. His primary competition comes from Craig Gentry and Austin Hays.

Improved play in the field has enhanced Rickard’s chances, but he needs to eliminate the perception that he’s weaker in center than the corners.

The main clubhouse had plenty of empty lockers yesterday morning despite the large camp roster. A few are being held for players acquired via free agency or trade, and there’s a growing sense that the Orioles are close to finding a veteran starting pitcher.

Executive vice president Dan Duquette indicated yesterday that free agency is a more likely avenue, so feel free to speculate. There’s no shortage of starters who will need to accept one-year deals. It plays directly into the Orioles’ hands.

Chris Tillman front trop.jpgI’ll state again that there’s been an increased push to re-sign Chris Tillman and the Orioles are convinced that they remain his first choice. A clogged free agent market certainly has impacted Tillman, who isn’t generating much of an industry buzz. A couple of rumored teams with interest - the Orioles, Twins and Blue Jays - and no known offers.

There could be more happening behind the scenes, but nothing out front that leads you to believe the Orioles are engaged in some sort of bidding war. But they aren’t going to wait around all spring to reach an agreement and bring Tillman from the weight room to the stadium field. There are too many other teams laying back and waiting for the best deals.

I’ve been told again that Tillman prefers a one-year pillow contract in order to re-enter the market next winter. This is how a player bets on himself - and doesn’t get banned from the sport.

Maybe I should reword it.

Tillman expects to have a bounceback season. The Orioles must feel the same way if they’re trying to re-sign him. He’s made it easy to check on his progress while working out at the complex.

The Orioles want to get Tillman on a lower-base salary with lots of incentives. An option would be a nice touch if he does revert to previous form, giving them a quality starter for 2019 at a reasonable rate, but it would stray from Tillman’s desire to give free agency another shot.

* Former Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz, who didn’t pitch in the majors last season, is expected to attend the free agent camp in Bradenton if he remains unsigned this week.

Matusz registered a 6.11 ERA and 1.755 WHIP in 11 relief appearances with Triple-A Reno before the Diamondbacks released him on May 12.

Though the Orioles want another left-handed reliever, they haven’t shown much interest in holding a reunion with their former first-round pick. His name came up in conversations, but that’s apparently where it ended.

The same goes for outfielder Nolan Reimold, who’s attempting a comeback and headed to the free agent camp.

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