Roster decisions no clearer
Injuries, lack of playing time cloud O's likely makeup
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Orioles have been in Spring Training for nearly a month, but they haven't made much progress on answering one of the fundamental questions facing their roster. Baltimore is still trying to decide whether it will carry 12 or 13 pitchers, a decision that will hinge on two factors.
First, said manager Dave Trembley, the Orioles have to decide whether they're comfortable with their starting rotation. After that, they have to decide whether it's worth it to carry an extra reliever instead of an extra infielder, and Trembley said the variables haven't really changed over the past 30 days.
"That's one of the main topics of conversation we'll be having," Trembley said. "I'll tell you, what we need is somebody to cover for [Cesar] Izturis. And how comfortable we are with who that person is says a lot.
"And also, what's our starting pitching going to be like? I don't want to have guys that are going to go three innings, because now you're going to be forced to carry an eight-man bullpen."
The Orioles are committed to three reserve slots, leaving one potential spot open. Barring injury, Baltimore is virtually certain to start the season with a backup catcher, Ryan Freel and Ty Wigginton on the bench. Both Freel and Wigginton can play second base, third base and the outfield, giving the team some flexibility.
Freel has even been working out at shortstop this spring, but he's yet to make the Orioles comfortable with him as the sole backup. Baltimore has veteran utility men Chris Gomez and Jolbert Cabrera in camp, and both players shape up as favorites if the club carries another infielder.
"I'm trying to move Gomez around," said Trembley. "I've got to get Cabrera some time at first. I need to get Wigginton an opportunity to play second. But no, there is some flexibility here in camp. We know, if we needed to go with 13 pitchers versus 12, that the pieces are there for us."
That may be true, but the Orioles also have to gain some familiarity with their starting-rotation candidates. Several of the early contenders got hurt, thinning the herd and introducing even more uncertainty into the equation. Just two starters are set, making things complicated.
"I think you're trying to cover for your starters. That's what you're doing," said Trembley. "I don't feel like I've got to cover for [Jeremy] Guthrie and Koji [Uehara], but there's still a question on who [Nos.] 3-4-5 are and are going to be. So until that is determined, we have to be prepared for the possibility to go with 13 pitchers.
"That's why we're playing these games. That's why we're anxious to see some of these guys get on the hill in games that haven't been out there yet. ... They'll make the decision for us one way or the other."
The Orioles have a whole host of back-end rotation candidates, including but not limited to Brad Bergesen, Radhames Liz, Rich Hill, Adam Eaton, Matt Albers, Danys Baez and David Pauley. Hill has been shelved by an injury, and Trembley said he'll know more about the other candidates in the next 10 days.
Baltimore has an intrasquad game on Thursday and then two split-squad games over the next 10 days. Trembley will get to eyeball several of his potential pitchers, giving the team a little more perspective.
"I think after the split-squad [game] on the 18th, we should probably come to something," Trembley said. "Right now, we don't have the luxury of doing that, because I can't get the players from the Minor Leagues."
The bottom line, as far as Trembley is concerned, is that the last spot on the bench will be important. And it doesn't have to be permanent. The Orioles may well make a decision and then reverse it soon thereafter.
"A key thing is whether or not some of the guys we counted on are going to be healthy and get enough innings here," Trembley said. "Thirteen [pitchers] gives us a short bench. Twelve gives us a little bit more flexibility. But if you go with 12, I think you have to look at one of those pitchers -- especially in your bullpen -- that will have some options left. So if you needed to go to another guy, you can option that guy down and bring another guy up."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.