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In three weeks, pitchers and catchers will take the field at the Ed Smith Stadium complex for their first workout, and fans are eager to know if there will be any additions to the candidates for the starting rotation.
Let’s take a look at some of the facts and questions surrounding the starters.
Who were last year’s starters?
In 2023, nine Orioles combined to start the team’s 162 regular-season games.
Kyle Gibson 33
Dean Kremer 32
Kyle Bradish 28
Tyler Wells 25
Grayson Rodriguez 23
Cole Irvin 12
Jack Flaherty 7
John Means 4
Keegan Akin 1
Gibson and Flaherty, who combined for 40 starts, are no longer here. If Rodriguez, who spent time at Triple-A Norfolk, and Means, whose four starts came in September after missing nearly two seasons to recover from April 2022 Tommy John surgery, carry full workloads, that could help make up for those 40 starts.
But it’s never that easy. The Orioles were fortunate to have excellent health among the starters other than Means. Bradish missed starts when he suffered a bruised foot at the start of the season while the others were healthy.
It would be terrific for the Orioles if that happened again, but it’s not likely. The Orioles have four sure things if healthy: Bradish, Kremer, Rodriguez and Means.
Means missed time during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and in 2021 when he managed 26 starts despite missing six weeks. The Orioles are going to have to make sure they have adequate replacements for Means and the others.
Is Tyler Wells a starter?
We should find out soon. In 2023, he was an impressive starter in the first half (7-4, 3.18 earned-run average with a 0.927 WHIP). But in the second half, he wore down and was sent to the minors after three substandard starts.
When he returned, Wells was used in relief and pitched five hitless innings with six strikeouts and a walk.
With closer Félix Bautista out for the season because of Tommy John surgery, Wells could pitch in relief again, or he could return to the rotation.
For the moment, you’d think he would be a starter because the Orioles don’t seem to have another option. Craig Kimbrel was signed to be the closer, and the Orioles seem to have lots of options for relievers.
But Wells’ struggles in the second half could give the Orioles pause. Perhaps we’ll hear more this weekend at the team’s annual caravan from Wells, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde.
Is DL Hall a starter?
The Orioles’ first-round draft choice in 2017 had a 3.26 ERA in 18 relief appearances last season, and while his stuff is exceptional, Hall has had a number of injuries during his career. The Orioles probably would be best served by deciding his role before spring training. We won’t see Hall this weekend, so it’s possible that question waits for another three weeks.
Does Cole Irvin get a shot at starting?
Irvin began last season in the rotation and was pulled after three tough starts and sent to Norfolk. He ended up starting 12 times and relieving 12 times.
Statistically, Irvin was better as a reliever (3.26 ERA) than starter (4.81), but the Orioles may need him as a sixth starter if there are doubleheaders or injuries to others.
Are there any fringe candidates?
Bruce Zimmermann remains on the 40-man roster, and he started 27 times from 2020-2022. He pitched in relief in each of his seven appearances last year.
Jonathan Heasley, who was acquired from Kansas City, started 24 times for the Royals in 2021 and 2022. He pitched in relief in each of his 12 appearances last year.
There are potential starters who need more minor league work but could help this season. One is Seth Johnson, who is already on the 40-man roster. Three who aren’t are Justin Armbruester, Chayce McDermott and Cade Povich. The first three are right-handers; Povich is a left-hander.
Is there still a possibility of a trade?
There’s always that chance, though it seems the asking price for the Chicago White Sox’s Dylan Cease and Miami Marlins’ Jesús Luzardo is high.
In 2023, Elias waited until January 26th to acquire Irvin from Oakland, a move that wasn’t rumored nor predicted.
Any free agents left?
Other than signing Kimbrel, the Orioles have let the rest of the free-agent market play out. Including James Paxton, whose deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers isn’t official, 17 starting pitchers have signed for less than $39 million in guaranteed money this offseason.
There are still some remaining who could fit with the Orioles (Johnny Cueto, Rich Hill, Michael Lorenzen, Hyun Jin-Ryu, Alex Wood), though there hasn’t been any chatter linking those pitchers with the Orioles.
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