Lots of candidates for bullpen's final spots

Lots of candidates for bullpen's final spots
January 24, 2014, 11:15 am
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Hall of Fame voter Mark Zuckerman on the 2014 class

June 18, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter (26) takes the ball to relieve starting pitcher Zach Britton (53) in the sixth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.

(Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Jim Johnson is gone. Francisco Rodriguez is, too. Troy Patton will be missing for the season’s first month.

Clearly, there are vacancies in the Orioles’ bullpen. For now, Tommy Hunter is the closer. If the Orioles somehow sign Fernando Rodney, he becomes the closer and Hunter moves back into the setup role.

Let’s say that the Orioles don’t sign Rodney. Hunter is the closer, Darren O’Day is the setup man. Ryan Webb pitches the seventh inning, and Brian Matusz is the left-handed specialist.

That leaves three spots available.

T.J. McFarland, who had one of those spots last year, could take one of those, but the team’s preference is that he starts the season in Norfolk. He could help the team as a spot starter or in the bullpen during the season.

Zach Britton is out of options, and the Orioles badly want him to succeed, or at the least, create a market for himself so that they could fetch something viable for him.

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Britton could be a starter if the team doesn’t sign another one, but I think they will. He could be a long man, something they haven’t consistently had in the past few years.

Josh Stinson could well join O’Day and Webb as pitchers for the seventh or eighth. Stinson impressed when he came up last August, and on a rough weekend, made two critical bullpen appearances.

He also had an effective September and as a starter most of his career, could also be a long man.

Let’s put Britton and Stinson in the pen along with Hunter, O’Day, Webb and Matusz. That still leaves an opening for the season’s first month.

Aaron Laffey isn’t a candidate, at least not now. Even though Laffey signed a minor league contract on Thursday, it doesn’t include a spring training invitation.

Laffey is from Cumberland, Md., former Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo’s hometown. In seven big league seasons, Laffey is 25-29 with a 4.45 ERA.

Luis Vizcaino isn’t a candidate, either. Vizcaino is 39, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2009, and like Laffey has a minor league contract without a big league invitation.

Last year, the Orioles signed veteran reliever Manny Delcarmen to a minor league contract. He never came to big league camp and spent the entire season at Norfolk.

The more serious candidates are Mike Belfiore, Brad Brach, Kelvin De La Cruz, Edgmer Escalona, Liam Hendriks, Steve Johnson and Chris Jones.

Tim Berry is on the 40-man roster, but he’s ticketed for Bowie.

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Belfiore was called up three times last season. The first two times he was returned to Norfolk without being used, and finally got in a game in the season’s last weekend and didn’t perform well. He’s most likely going back to the Tides.

Brach is a power pitcher who has 109 games of big league experience. He’s struck out more than a batter per nine innings, but walked 5.5. New pitching coach Dave Wallace could make a difference with Brach, but he looks like he’ll probably go to Norfolk, too.

De La Cruz is a left-hander, and that might come in handy, but he has no big league experience.

Escalona was not impressive with Colorado last season, but the Orioles liked what they saw of him in winter ball. It would be an upset if either De La Cruz or Escalona made the team.

Hendriks looks like a swing man, a guy who could start and relieve. His major league record (2-13, 6.06 ERA) is hardly a good one. He will most likely join McFarland as two of Norfolk’s starters.

Jones was acquired last season for Luis Ayala. He’s a left-hander, too, and has never pitched in the majors, but the team considered adding him to the roster late last season. Jones has a decent shot to make it at some point in the season.

If the roster stays the same, then Steve Johnson has the best chance. Manager Buck Showalter likes versatility and having Johnson, Britton and Stinson in the bullpen could make for a flexible group.

Fabio Castillo and Eddie Gamboa are two non-roster pitchers that have been invited to camp. Neither has a real shot of making the team. Castillo was signed from the Giants organization, and Gamboa is a starter who throws a knuckleball. Perhaps Gamboa can join, Hendriks, Laffey and Mike Wright in Norfolk’s starting rotation.

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