For starters, Orioles seek to fortify rotation this spring
BALTIMORE (AP) There might come a time in the next few weeks when the Baltimore Orioles finally add a proven veteran to their stunningly thin starting rotation.
”There are some pitchers available, and I’m confident we’ll be able to sign some between now and when we open (the regular season),” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said recently.
Until then, manager Buck Showalter can only hope to find some quality arms among a massive array of hurlers ready to show their stuff at spring training in Sarasota, Florida.
”We’ve got 35 pitchers coming to camp, more than any in the history of the Orioles,” Showalter noted. ”We’re staying focused on the people who are here right now, trying to see if certain people can go to another level. We’ve got plenty of resources to do more than compete.”
That’s the company line, although it’s hard to perceive the Orioles as a contender in the AL East coming off a last-place finish and with a rotation that currently lists only Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.
Having disposed of ineffective starters Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley and Chris Tillman, Baltimore is holding an open tryout this spring for pitchers capable of going every fifth day.
”If we can add and build our starting rotation, we should have another good ball club,” said Duquette, who remains confident the Orioles can bounce back from their first losing season since 2011.
Unfortunately, there are other areas of concern. Closer Zach Britton tore his right Achilles tendon during the offseason, leaving the back end of the bullpen in need of a makeover.
In addition, three-time All-Star Manny Machado begins the final season of his contract at a new position: shortstop. Machado moves from third base to the middle of the infield, replacing Tim Beckham, who shifts to third.
”There could be some adjustments in spring if we don’t like the feel of it,” Showalter said.
Here are some things to keep an eye on this spring:
The revamped starting rotation will be looking at a new starting catcher. Welington Castillo opted for free agency, leaving Caleb Joseph to become a regular behind the plate for the first time in his career.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Backup catcher Chance Sisco is one of the top prospects in the organization, and will get every chance to make the roster out of spring training for the first time. The Orioles are also excited about outfielder Austin Hays and shortstop Ryan Mountcastle, both of whom will get plenty of playing time this spring.
The infield remains the same, with the exception of the Machado-Beckham switch. Jonathan Schoop is an All-Star second baseman in 2017, and slugger Chris Davis will again play first base.
The starting rotation isn’t the only question mark on a revamped pitching staff. Brad Brach had 18 saves last season while Britton fought elbow and knee injuries, but Brach also blew six save chances. Brach, Mychal Givens, Darren O’Day and Miguel Castro – if he isn’t converted into a starter – will vie for the closer’s job. ”I think I did all right,” Brach said, ”and I hope to get another chance to do it.”
DEFENSE NEEDS WORK
The Orioles fell from sixth to 16th in fielding percentage last season, making 94 errors compared to 80 in 2016. ”Defense is a focus with us all the time, and it will be re-emphasized” in spring training, bench coach John Russell said.
It’s going to be an intriguing spring for the Orioles. In addition to filling out his pitching staff, Showalter must monitor his new-look infield, choose a backup catcher and see if Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis have re-discovered their hitting stroke. The duo combined for 49 homers in 2017, down from 85 the year before.
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