SARASOTA, Fla. – The 25-man roster must be set in 13 days. Eleven major league spring training games remain. There are still a few questions that surround a placid and relatively uneventful Orioles camp.
The health of Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold is still in doubt. The identity of the leadoff hitter isn’t for certain, and the makeup of the bench is still in doubt, but the final days of camp will be dominated by the question of who will be the fifth starter.
Five for the fifth:
1) Jake Arrieta
Arrieta was the Opening Day starter last year, and in 2011, started the home opener. He’s had a good camp, allowing three runs and seven hits in 11 1/3 innings. In his last two starts, he’s worked 8 2/3 scoreless innings.
On Saturday, Arrieta threw too many pitches and didn’t get through five innings. Buck Showalter is often frustrated by the number of pitches Arrieta has to throw. He feels with his stuff, he ought to be more economical. Arrieta ought to routinely take his best pitches late in the game, but isn’t able to because he nibbles too much.
A big negative is that he’s walked six batters, more than one every two innings.
2) Zach Britton
Britton’s started twice and relieved twice. In his first start, Arrieta pitched behind him. In those four outings, Britton’s allowed two runs on six hits in 8 2/3 innings. In his last start on Friday against Boston, he allowed one hit in 3 2/3.
Britton hasn’t thrown the number of innings that Arrieta has, and Showalter wanted to give him the chance to stretch out.
He’s showing no effects of the sore left shoulder that hampered him in 2012, but seems a bit behind Arrieta in the pecking order, though his control has been much better.
As Showalter likes to say, it’s easy to overlook Johnson, but he has an advantage that neither Arrieta nor Britton has. He’s shown the ability to work out of the bullpen, and the others haven’t.
Johnson never looks overpowering, and didn’t look impressive in throwing four scoreless innings at the Minnesota Twins on Sunday.
His stat line is nearly identical to Britton’s, two runs and six hits in nine innings. He’s walked four and struck out six.
If the Orioles trade Tommy Hunter, which isn’t terribly likely, Johnson could slide into Hunter’s long relief role if he’s not chosen as the fifth starter.
4) Brian Matusz
Matusz won the fifth starter’s job last spring, lost it, but then proved his value to the club by becoming a reliable left-handed reliever.
At 26, the Orioles still have a lot tied up in Matusz. A high draft choice just five years ago who’s never truly lived up to his potential, Matusz feels, and maybe the Orioles do too, that he’s too young to be stereotyped as a left-handed relief specialist.
When the Orioles promised that he’d get another shot at starting this spring, it seemed patronizing, but he’s done well, allowing three runs and six hits in 10 innings. In his last start, he was terrific, not allowing a hit in four innings to the Twins, striking out seven.
He may prove too valuable in the bullpen to risk as a starter.
5) T.J. McFarland
After some spotty outings to start camp, Rule 5 draft pick T.J. McFarland has put himself on the outside of the competition.
He’s allowed four runs and eight hits in 8 2/3 innings, though he’s gotten much better in recent outings.
McFarland is a left-hander, and he must be offered back to Cleveland if he doesn’t make the team, and the Orioles must keep him on the 25-man roster all season.
Just because they were able to do that with Ryan Flaherty, doesn’t mean they’ll be able to do that this year. It will be hard to keep McFarland without a trade or injury to others.
At the beginning of camp, Jair Jurrjens could have been a contender, but his inconsistent performances have put him on the outside. Jurrjens has allowed seven earned runs and 11 hits with six walks.
Unlike the others, Jurrjens is on a minor league contract. The 2011 National League All-Star is likely to lose out on a lot of money if he’s sent to the minors.
Jurrjens’ contract pays him $250,000 when he’s in the minors and $1.75 if he’s on the Orioles roster. He has performance bonuses that could add as much as $2.25 million if he makes as many as 25 starts and pitches 170 innings.
Showalter still has 13 days to make his decision, and the betting is he’ll take every moment he’s allowed before making his choice.