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SARASOTA—Just over two weeks from now, the Orioles will end their spring training camp, and while they cut 15 players from the 71-man roster, the final decisions are still far from clear. Their first game is on March 30th against Boston at Fenway Park.
“It’s a date,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Five days later, the roster could look completely different. That’s not abnormal.”
What does the starting rotation look like? Throughout camp, a rotation of Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, Grayson Rodriguez, Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish seemed likely, and this week has done nothing to change it.
Gibson will start on Monday against Detroit. Cole Irvin pitched in a simulated game in Sarasota while Rodriguez starts Sunday against Boston. Kremer is also starting on Sunday, but it’s for Team Israel against Nicaragua in the World Baseball Classic.
Bradish’s eight strikeouts in four innings against Minnesota on Friday night seems to have solidified his spot. He has allowed two runs on four hits in nine innings, striking out 12 and walking two.
What about the other starting candidates? In any previous spring, Austin Voth, Spenser Watkins and Tyler Wells would have a good shot at becoming starters, but the starting rotation this spring is far better than in previous years.
Voth has struggled this spring with an 8.22 ERA. He allowed three home runs in an inning on Monday and two runs on three hits in 2 2/3 innings on Saturday against Toronto in Dunedin, but he has no options left and can be a valuable swingman.
So could Watkins, who will start against Atlanta at North Port in a split-squad game. Watkins has allowed one run on five hits in five innings.
Wells has allowed four runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.
It will be interesting if Hyde opts for three long relievers who also could start in the bullpen, although Wells was an effective reliever before he became a starter last season.
Are we closer to knowing the eight relievers? No, but this is an important week. If Félix Bautista, who hasn’t pitched, appears in a game or two by this time next week, that could go a long way in determining its makeup. Bautista, who emerged as a dominant closer last season, hasn’t pitched because of knee and shoulder injuries but reports are he has looked strong in bullpen sessions.
Dillon Tate will begin the season on the 10-day injured list because of a forearm injury, but he’s at least throwing.
Bryan Baker, Mychal Givens and Cionel Pérez have spots waiting for them, and if Bautista begins the season on the active list and Hyde opts for three long relievers, that leaves one spot for Keegan Akin, DL Hall, Joey Krehbiel, Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi and Nick Vespi.
Akin has drawn praise from Hyde, who says he’s throwing as well as anyone in camp.
Two long men instead of three also could help Akin and others.
Hall has yet to pitch, though he could in the next week, but it seems more likely the Orioles would prefer to use him as a starter later in the season.
Krehbiel, who had a strong first half in 2022 but a rocky second half, rebounded from two poor performances with a strong inning on Thursday at Clearwater.
Vespi hasn’t pitched because of January hernia surgery. He’s scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut on Monday.
Politi had three scoreless outings before allowing two two-run home runs against the Phillies on Thursday. The Orioles seem to like what he brings, but the numbers could be against him.
Hyde said he hasn’t decided on relievers and that the last three spots in the bullpen are up for grabs.
“Haven’t finalized the bullpen yet,” Hyde said. “Want to see if everybody stays healthy these last couple of weeks … Hopefully, we stay healthy and have to make some tough decisions at the end.”
Were any of the 15 cuts surprising? No. The biggest names cut were Coby Mayo and César Prieto, but they weren’t going to make the team. Some of the 15, which includes reliever Noah Denoyer, who’s on the 40-man roster, could eventually pitch for the Orioles this season, but Denoyer and Chris Vallimont, a non-roster reliever who spent much of the offseason on the 40-man roster, each saw just one two-inning stint early in spring training.
It’s surprising that shortstop Jackson Holliday, the overall No. 1 draft pick, is still in camp, but he may still be here because Joey Ortiz, who’s on the 40-man roster, is in concussion protocol.
Who gets the last position player spot? It could be between Terrin Vavra, a left-handed hitting utility man, and left-handed first basemen Franchy Cordero, Lewin Díaz and Ryan O’Hearn.
“I think our bench spots are still open,” Hyde said. “Glad to see everybody’s playing so well that’s in camp and swinging the bat so well. That’s going to be a great competition as we head into this Wednesday] [offday].”
Vavra returned to the lineup after missing six games because of left shoulder discomfort, and he’s 8-for-16 (.500) this spring.
Cordero, Diaz, O’Hearn and another left-handed hitter, Josh Lester, each have hit well this spring, but the Orioles could choose not to keep any of them and stick with Vavra, who has shown he also can play second and third his spring.
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