SARASOTA, Fla. - Manager Buck Showalter has reached the point in Orioles camp when he begins to field questions about his opening day starter and the alignment of his rotation. It’s an annual drill that usually unfolds during batting practice. He wanders over to the dugout area, provides injury updates and waits for it.
Showalter won’t tip his hand this early. He’s usually inclined to ask the media when it needs to know, saving it for a slow news day.
Spring results don’t carry a lot of weight. Otherwise, Dylan Bundy’s 10 runs and 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings might have eliminated him from consideration. He was the steadiest starter last year in a historically bad rotation and could get the ball on March 29 against the Twins at Camden Yards.
Kevin Gausman received the honor last year with Chris Tillman on the disabled list and he tossed three perfect innings in his last spring outing, with five strikeouts, after the nasty collision behind home plate.
Showalter is checking matchups and splits, how the pitchers fare against the Twins and the Astros, who provide the first road opponent and should be in a celebratory mood after winning the World Series. He’s working his way through the entire April schedule.
Though he left open the possibility that Tillman could start in the Twins series, it seems more likely that the right-hander will be held back until the April 2 game in Houston. Let him deal with the festive crowd for the Astros’ home opener.
Tillman has made three career starts at Minute Maid Park and allowed four runs and 11 hits in 20 2/3 innings for a 1.74 ERA. He’s 2-3 with a 4.05 ERA and 1.300 WHIP in his seven starts against the Astros over 40 innings.
In eight career starts against the Twins, Tillman has gone 0-5 with a 4.89 ERA and 1.686 WHIP over 35 innings.
Pairing Tillman with Minute Maid Park makes statistical sense but no arrangement is going to be perfect. He’d also be lined up to make his next start at Yankee Stadium, where he’s 4-5 with a 7.63 ERA and 1.966 WHIP in 11 games (10 starts).
The Orioles are willing to erase anything that Tillman produced in 2017 because he just wasn’t himself, and that includes his 19.29 ERA and 3.286 WHIP in three games (two starts) versus the Yankees. He allowed 15 runs and 18 hits and walked five batters in seven innings. The mulligan weighs two tons.
Andrew Cashner is 3-7 with a 3.92 ERA and 1.116 WHIP in 16 career games (eight starts) against the Astros over 57 1/3 innings. He’s 0-3 with a 5.82 ERA and 1.200 WHIP in eight games (three starts) in Houston covering 21 2/3 innings.
In his only career start against the Twins, Cashner lasted four-plus innings and was charged with two runs - on homers by Kennys Vargas and Miguel Sanó - and five hits with six walks and three strikeouts. He was making his third start with the Rangers.
Bundy is 0-2 with a 5.54 ERA and 1.308 WHIP in three games (two starts) against the Twins covering 13 innings and 0-1 with a 13.50 ERA and 2.813 WHIP in two games (one start) versus the Astros over 5 1/3 innings, with eight runs and 10 hits allowed.
His only appearance in Houston came in the 13th inning of a May 24, 2016 game. Tony Kemp led off with a triple, Bundy intentionally walked the next two batters and Carlos Correa delivered a walk-off single.
Gausman is 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA and 1.214 WHIP in five career starts against the Twins covering 28 innings and 1-2 with a 4.91 ERA and 1.200 WHIP in three starts against the Astros in 18 1/3 innings. He’s 0-2 with a 4.63 ERA and 1.200 WHIP in two starts at Minute Maid Park over 11 2/3 innings.
Showalter knows all of it. And much more.
I guess the only fly in the ointment would come if the Orioles signed another starter that could push Tillman to the fifth slot. It won’t be Lance Lynn, who reportedly agreed yesterday to a one-year deal with the Twins that guarantees $12 million and includes a possible $2 million in bonuses.
I’d love to break down the Orioles’ negotiations with Lynn and whether he preferred a short-term deal to avoid Camden Yards and a team projected to finish below .500, but I don’t have any details beyond how the club stayed in contact with his representative and appeared open to three guaranteed years but preferred two with a vesting option.