Zach Britton: Can he make this team now?

Heading into spring training, I had assumed that Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta were pretty much locks to make the starting rotation and that, if healthy, Justin Duchscherer would join them.

That would allow for Rick VandenHurk to compete for a bullpen role and Chris Tillman and Zach Britton to begin the year at Triple-A.


Well, those plans could be changing.

The Orioles knew Duchscherer making the opening day rotation was a gamble, thus the by-baseball-standards modest $700,000 guarantee he got. To say the least, Duchscherer headed for an MRI with only two spring innings under his belt is a real bad sign.

I still hold out hope he will pitch for the team this year. He’s talented when he can take the mound and rotation depth is necessary over the very long season.

But now I wonder if his questionable availability will open the door for Britton to make the roster from day one, or at least early in the year.

Up to now, I have had no problems with the O’s thinking of the business aspect to this - the possibility of bringing Britton up later in the year to slow the arbitration eligibility/free agent clocks. Pretty much all teams do it.

But if the O’s brass, getting an up-close look in camp, deems Britton now clearly ready for the majors, maybe they have to be open to the possibility that he starts in the season-opening rotation.

A complicating factor could be the schedule. By my count, the O’s will need a fifth starter for just four starts among 27 April games. The fifth starter won’t be needed until April 10 and that is the ninth game of the year, so Britton, or whoever has that role, could get one minor league start before that date.

Britton has made just 12 Triple-A starts for a total of 66 1/3 innings. But he pitched so well last year and now has nine shutout innings this spring. He is looking almost ready at this point. Brian Matusz made just eight Double-A Bowie starts in 2009 and never even pitched at Triple-A. He was an experienced and polished college pitcher, however, and we can’t compare the development of many others to him.

I guess this is just the kind of issue the Orioles don’t mind having. I don’t mean Duchscherer. I mean having a top prospect pitching so well he is trying to force his way on the team. Jake Arrieta did that last year.

Now it’s your turn: What is your take on this? Do the O’s now have to give strong consideration to Britton pitching for the team in April? How do you feel about the rotation right now?

You can follow me and send comments and questions to me on Twitter: @masnsteve.

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