Orioles’ 2017 rotation: Turning six into five

The Orioles have one starter too many. Or maybe they have two fewer than they really need. Or maybe it is something in between.

In terms of players under contract for their 2017 rotation, they have six pitchers for five spots with Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley.

Of that group, only Gausman could pitch in the minors unless it was on an injury rehab assignment. And sending Gausman out is not an acceptable answer or solution for having six for five spots.

This part we do know: The Orioles rotation improved by a large margin in the second half. At the All-Star break, the starters had an ERA of 5.15. In the second half, that number was 4.24. Over a full year, a rotation pitching to an ERA of 4.24 would have ranked fourth in the American League in 2016.

With Gausman pitching better and Bundy posting an ERA of 2.76 in his first six starts, the rotation got a big lift from the young guns in the second half. It would sure seem that those two and Tillman form the top three of the 2017 rotation, in some order. Then what about Jimenez, Miley and Gallardo?

Gallardo-Throws-Gray-Sidebar.jpgThe Orioles have hopes that a healthy Gallardo in 2017 could pitch more like he did in 2015 with Texas, when he went 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA. Gallardo missed about two months in 2016 with a shoulder injury and a healthy shoulder for a full year would provide him a shot to pitch more like he did two seasons ago. He gave up three runs in 12 innings over his last two starts of the season and pitched to an ERA of 3.38 in a four-start stretch in August.

Miley had an ERA of 8.41 in his first eight starts with the Orioles, but worked to an ERA of 1.23 over his last three starts with two walks and 23 strikeouts. It was a dramatic reversal. If Miley could pitch close to his career 4.18 ERA, the O’s would have a back end piece of the rotation with four years of 190 or more innings on his resume. And a lefty also.

Jimenez pitched to an ERA of 2.45 with a WHIP of 0.86 over his last seven starts of the year, starting Aug. 25. From that date on, he allowed a batting average against of just .170, which was the lowest in the majors during that span.

Did the veteran trio do enough late in the year to provide some hope that they could fill out the rotation and the starting five could pitch more like it did during the 2016 second half?

The O’s have indicated they could also add a starter, but how would they do that with six starters for five spots already? Is there a chance one or more of the vets is involved in a winter deal?

The free agent pitching market looks very thin with 37-year-old Rich Hill one of the best pitchers available. The Orioles don’t have an ace, but there are none out there this winter.

The Orioles rotation was the biggest team question mark heading into last season. Did the O’s find some answers in the second half?

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