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Baltimore Orioles have much uncertainty in pitching rotation

February 14, 2018

FILE - This Oct. 1, 2017 file photo shows Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter watching from the dugout during the first inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Orioles began spring training on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018 with 35 pitchers and much uncertainty. Since last season ended, Baltimore shed four of its starters from the 2017 rotation: right-handers Jeremy Hellickson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Tillman and left-hander Wade Miley. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius, file)

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — The Baltimore Orioles began spring training on Wednesday with 35 pitchers and much uncertainty. Since last season ended, Baltimore shed four of its starters from the 2017 rotation: right-handers Jeremy Hellickson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Tillman and left-hander Wade Miley.

Who’ll replace them and slot in behind right-handers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman in 2018 is a mystery.

Manager Buck Showalter said that eight pitchers could work in Grapefruit League games as starters. They include Bundy, Gausman, right-handers Miguel Castro, Hunter Harvey, Mike Wright and Gabriel Ynoa. Two Rule 5 draftees left-hander Nestor Cortes and right-hander Jose Mesa are also under consideration.

Harvey, who was Baltimore’s top draft pick in 2013, but had Tommy John surgery in 2016, won’t start the season in the major leagues, though he could pitch for the Orioles later in the season.

Castro was impressive in long relief last year and got a start on the next-to-last day of the 2017 season.

Wright, who started 21 games for Baltimore in 2015 and 2016 and Ynoa, who had four starts last season, are both out of options.

Showalter has a message to his starters.

“The opportunity may come early. Be ready,” Showalter said. “There’s always the possibility that someone shows up at this camp.”

For weeks, there have been reports that the Orioles would bring Tillman back. Baltimore allowed the right-hander, who had a 1-7 record with a frightful 7.84 ERA in 2017, to work out at its facility, but has yet to re-sign him.

“The most important thing right now is the people here and trying to find the answers we’re looking for,” Showalter said. “If someone walks in the door and the front office and ownership thinks that’s a good fit for us, then we’ll move with it. I don’t ever want to covet other people’s players or other people that aren’t currently here. I really covet the people we have here now.”

Gausman, who was the Opening Day starter in 2017 when Tillman began the season on the disabled list, is eager to learn who’ll be the other starters.

“If we don’t sign anybody to the rotation, l’ll be the longest tenured (starting) pitcher on our team,” the 27-year-old Gausman said.

“That’s kind of weird to think about because I really haven’t been around very long. But I’m excited about that. It’s a new step, something I’ve always done on every team I’ve been on, but when you’re 22 and get to the big leagues you are not going to be that guy. Not yet. I’m looking forward to it.”

The Orioles have just nine days until their first spring training game, and just four days of practice with their position players, who aren’t required to report until Sunday and take the field Feb. 19.

Of the 35 pitchers, the only one who isn’t scheduled to throw soon is left-hander Zach Britton, who is recovering from left Achilles tendon surgery in December.

“I still plan to be involved. I’m going to be with the team, hopefully pretty quickly in the season,” Britton said. “I want to be a part. Hopefully this isn’t my last year here, but I want to enjoy the spring. Obviously, I’m not going to have a spring, which stinks, but enjoy it because I don’t know if I’ll be here next year. I think I can help out a lot with these other guys.”

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