The Orioles open Grapefruit League play on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s the next step in spring training, putting manager Brandon Hyde closer to making decisions on the Opening Day 26-man roster.
Let’s look at some of the decisions facing Hyde and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias.
13 or 14 pitchers: There will be no limit on pitchers. Last year, which was supposed to be the first with a 26-man roster was going to have a 13-pitcher limit.
Hyde says the 13 or 14 pitcher decision won’t be made until just before the season opener on April 1 at Boston.
“I think we’re going to see a power rotation,” Hyde said. “See how many length guys we have in our bullpen. That’s why we’re planning on stretching these guys out as much as possible to give us some flexibility in our pitching staff, see how the starters throw. See which guys we take with us.”
The Orioles play 18 games in the season’s first 22 days. Those four off days on April 2, 9, 19 and 22 could provide recovery time for the bullpen, making it easier to get by with 13.
If the Orioles go with 14, that means they’ll only have three bench players. One would be a backup catcher, another a backup infielder, probably Pat Valaika. If you have Chris Davis as the designated hitter, that leaves only one extra outfielder, perhaps putting DJ Stewart’s job in jeopardy.
A bench of Chance Sisco, Pat Valaika and Cedric Mullins wouldn’t be bad, but hardly ideal.
The guess here is that they go with 13, allowing the Orioles to play Davis occasionally and also to have two extra outfielders.
Hyde is trying to get his relievers to work multiple innings in games, so it looks like he’d prefer that additional bench player.
“I think it’s going to be an end of the camp decision on 13 or 14,” Hyde said.
How many veteran starters could the Orioles take? It seems that Matt Harvey and Félix Hernández have a good chance to join the Orioles’ rotation along with John Means, Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer.
But, there’s a third veteran in camp on a minor league contract, and that’s Wade LeBlanc.
“It’s going to be such a small sample from a number standpoint,” Hyde said. “I don’t think we’re going to be looking at numbers, but we will be looking at what their pitches look like, if they look healthy, the kind of swings they’re getting from opposing hitters.
“I think all those type things are going to be important because if you give up a three-run homer in a two-inning stint, your numbers get inflated. That happens…it’s not about ERA or that type of thing.”
Hyde doesn’t rule out Harvey, Hernández and LeBlanc all making the Orioles’ opening day roster, though room on the 40-man roster would have to be made for all of them.
“Anything can happen,” Hyde says. “I’ve seen that happen before. I’m not going to count that out.”
Rule 5 players may be out of luck: Even though Hyde has said that the two Rule 5 right-handers, Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells have thrown well in camp, it’s looks as if it’s going to be hard to keep them.
LeBlanc and Thomas Eshelman, another pitcher on a minor league contract who starts Sunday, Jorge López and Bruce Zimmermann are all considerations for the starting rotation.
They’re all possibilities for the bullpen, too.
The Orioles have a number of pitchers with a track record in the pen: Shawn Armstrong, Paul Fry, Hunter Harvey, Travis Lakins, Tanner Scott, Cole Sulser, Dillon Tate and César Valdez.
If all eight were kept, that would mean Eshelman, LeBlanc, López and Zimmermann wouldn’t be. López, who started six games last year, is out of options.
Of the relievers, Armstrong and Valdez are out of options. Sceroler and Wells can’t be sent down this year.
“I just think it’s a little more challenging to see everybody in game situations this year,” Hyde said.
The Orioles were originally scheduled to begin play on Saturday, and now have two off days instead of one. Three split-squad games were eliminated.
“Even though split squads are a grind for everybody, they help out with getting guys innings on the mound,” Hyde said. “We’re just going to have to be as creative as we possibly can on the back fields to really get a good look. We’re also going to schedule some ‘B’ games with other teams.”