The Orioles closed the 2016 season with six starting pitchers. They may open 2017 with those same six—and maybe more.
Because of injuries or performance, teams usually need more than five starters. The Chicago Cubs, whose five best starters threw 152 of 162 games are the exception.
But, the Cubs are so good that Jason Hammel, who 15 games and had a 3.83 ERA, has been inactive for the first two postseason series.
The Orioles used nine starters in the season just past: Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman (30 starters each), Ubaldo Jimenez (25), Yovani Gallardo (23), Dylan Bundy (14), Tyler Wilson (13), Mike Wright (12), Wade Miley (11) and Vance Worley (4).
All but Worley are under club control for 2017.
Tillman, Gausman and Bundy comprise a potentially formidable top three while Gallardo, Jimenez and Miley all pitched creditably in the season’s final weeks.
Two seasons ago, the Orioles went into spring training with six starters for five spots: Tillman, Gausman, Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris.
Norris pitched himself out of the rotation, and the club tried Wilson and Wright.
The Orioles want not only five good starters, but five potential starters in back of those five.
They’ll hope that Wilson and Wright given another year could be part of that solution.
For the moment, there don’t appear to be major league ready starters in the minors. Christopher Lee, who was shut down with a shoulder injury in mid-May, was 5-0 with a 2.98 ERA with Bowie.
At the start of last season, the Orioles hoped Lee would be a potential starter late in the year, but that wasn’t possible.
The most often used starters for the Baysox did not have impressive numbers: Jayson Aquino (5-10, 3.90), Brandon Barker (5-7, 4.75) Jason Garcia (6-10, 4.73), David Hess (5-13, 5.37) and John Means (4-8, 4.69). Matthew Grimes, who pitched well at Frederick, was 3-5 with a 4.68 ERA.
It was even less promising at the Orioles’ highest level, Triple-A Norfolk. The Tides’ most used starter was Joe Gunkel, who went 8-11 with a 4.08 ERA. Gunkel has yet to be added to the 40-man roster and wasn’t a serious consideration for a September callup.
If Wilson or Wright can show they’ve improved in 2017 that would be a help because none of the six top starters have options remaining, and just two of the top five relievers (Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart).
In the early years of the Dan Duquette-Buck Showalter regime, the Orioles could option pitchers more freely, but now with the starters as well as Brad Brach, Zach Britton and Darren O’Day assured to be on the team, it’s harder for them to be more flexible.
Givens was so good and valuable that the Orioles never came close to optioning him in 2016.
Perhaps the Orioles will want to make room for Parker Bridwell and Oliver Drake, who can be freely moved. Aquino was called up in September, but only got in two games then.
At Duquette and Showalter’s season-ending press conference, Duquette indicated that he would be looking for additional starters and more left-handed pitching.
The free agent market isn’t loaded with top shelf talent, and the Orioles will probably look for pitchers who’ve had good track records in the past, but have suffered a down year or two.
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