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03/31/12 11:43 AM ET

Orioles option Tillman, staff coming into focus

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, with plans for the 23-year-old to be stretched back out as a starter.

There was some thought to keeping Tillman on the Opening Day roster as a reliever, particularly given his impressive spring, but manager Buck Showalter confirmed Saturday that the plan is for him to start.

Tillman allowed five runs (four earned) on 12 hits and three walks with six strikeouts over 12 1/3 innings. He last pitched three innings against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, giving up a run on three hits and a walk in one of his worst outings this spring. He went 3-5 with a 5.52 ERA in 13 games with Baltimore last season and was 3-6 with a 5.19 ERA in 15 games with Norfolk.

"He's made strides," Showalter said. "Keep in mind, he's still one of the young guys in camp, pitching-wise. But Tillman -- the maturity level, everything -- he's so close to putting it together.

"He understands [the demotion]. But there's a reason why he stayed here as long as he did. He's made a lot of strides. I like where he is. I expect him to have a good year."

Tillman will throw in a Minor League game, opposite Tommy Hunter, on Sunday, with the plan for him to go five innings.

The move leaves the Orioles with 15 pitchers competing for 12 spots. Assuming the rotation will be Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, Hunter and Brian Matusz, and the bullpen has Jim Johnson, Kevin Gregg, Luis Ayala, Matt Lindstrom and Pedro Strop, they are looking at two spots between five guys.

Tsuyoshi Wada could start the season on the disabled list, and the preference remains for him to be used as a starter, so that leaves four guys for two spots: sidearmers Darren O'Day and Pat Neshek and lefties Troy Patton and Zach Phillips. Patton is out of options -- meaning he would have to clear waivers if he doesn't make the team -- while Phillips has had an impressive spring and is viewed as a favorite to make the team. Both Neshek and O'Day have pitched well, but both can be sent down to the Minor Leagues without being exposed to waivers.

So, it looks most likely that the team's bullpen will include Patton and Phillips, with one of them possibly stretching out to help as a long reliever, if needed. With Alfredo Simon being placed on outright waivers and Tillman now optioned, the Orioles' bullpen -- as presently constructed -- has no long reliever. Showalter said the club has had most of their relievers pitch two-inning stints and back-to-back days, and Ayala is another option to pitch multiple innings, if needed.

"Hopefully our starting pitching is deep enough where we don't have to do that, but we know every club is going to have some of that," Showalter said. "It's part of deciding on the final spots in the bullpen."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.