Thursday Thoughts: Who Will Step Up While Tillman Recovers?

Gabriel Ynoa pitches for the Orioles.
GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

This is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. This year, I’ll be cutting it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl WeaverBrooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S.

1. There’s no question that injuries have been the biggest story of spring training for the Orioles. There’s also no question that the shoulder ailment holding Chris Tillman down is the biggest of them. Tillman won’t be around for the start of the season, and if history tells us anything, he’ll likely miss at least the first month.

Tillman received a cortisone injection in his injured shoulder, the same type of process Kevin Gausman went through a year ago. Gausman made his first start on April 25 after suffering from tendinitis in his throwing shoulder during spring training.

Each day that there is news on Tillman, I hold my breath. It’s not just that he’s the most consistent starter on the roster, it’s also that the rotation is already littered with question marks and holes. The offseason departure of Yovani Gallardo really left no room for error, and it’s not like Gallardo was providing much relief from acid reflux when he was on the mound.

If Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley don’t concern you at the back end of the starting five, you must not be paying attention. And while you may not want to talk about Dylan Bundy’s injury history, that’s still a thing. Expectations on Gausman are already sky-high, so here’s hoping his back is strong and sturdy, because he’s going to be carrying a lot of weight on it.

2. The real question when it comes to Tillman is who will fill the role while he’s out (though fortunately the team won’t need a fifth starter until late April)? There are multiple in-house candidates, none of which sound like the perfect fit. Frankly, there are multiple outside candidates that don’t sound very appealing either. Mainstays Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson would seem to have a shot at it, while Chris Lee is a name being thrown out quite a bit. I don’t know that Lee is quite ready for that jump, and I don’t see the Orioles starting his service time just yet. I think they want him to start the season in the minors.

Gabriel Ynoa and Jayson Aquino are the other likely in-house candidates to fill the spot. Free agents like Doug Fister and Colby Lewis have to be wondering if their phones will ring. Regardless of who ends up being the answer, it won’t be a confident one. It won’t be an answer that allows you to rest easy and be satisfied with Tillman missing an extended amount of time.

3. Perhaps the second biggest story of the past week involving the Orioles has to do with their “project” of turning Pedro Alvarez into an outfielder. If that sounds more like science-fiction to you, then you aren’t alone. Apparently, the Orioles felt their corner outfield defense was strong enough with the likes of Hyun-soo Kim, Mark Trumbo, Seth Smith, Joey Rickard, Craig Gentry, Chris Dickerson and (I guess) a Rule 5 player.

Why not throw Alvarez into that mix? At this point, they may as well try out Alvarez at shortstop just in the event that J.J. Hardy needs a day off. I don’t get it at all. I also don’t think this is what Adam Jones had in mind when he spoke out at FanFest about the need to improve the outfield defense. The real kicker is that none of the local beat writers has had the chance to stick a recorder in Jones’ face and ask him what he thinks because he’s in San Diego for the World Baseball Classic.

His opinion is the one I really want to hear.

Mark Trumbo mans the outfield.

GulfBird Photo/Craig Landefeld

4. We’re about halfway through this extended version of spring training, and when it comes to the roster, I still don’t feel like the Orioles have the answers they were looking for. It’s not like there are a ton of roster positions up for grabs, but the ones that are surely aren’t decided yet. Tillman’s injury leaves questions in the rotation, and there are still massive questions in that outfield. The bullpen really isn’t even set in stone, though that tends to be the last thing worked out.

The corner outfield spots remain the biggest glaring question mark for this team as it heads into the season. Is there really going to be a platoon in both left and right field? Will someone step up and become an everyday player in one or both of those spots? I don’t see who it could be, or how it could happen. Right now, I think it’s going to be some combination of four or five players getting the time in those two spots, along with the DH spot. That includes the man we spoke about last week, Mark Trumbo.

Remember that Buck Showalter at least knows what he has in the outfield with Trumbo, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him out there more often than anybody currently expects.

5. For all the bad-mouthing of the World Baseball Classic that I did in this very space last week, I must say I found myself watching a great deal of it over the past few days. It’s been surprisingly entertaining for some odd reason. Maybe it’s the fact that Manny Machado is proving to everyone that he’s a top three player in the world. Perhaps it had something to do with Adam Jones’ clutch walk-off hit in last week’s Team USA win over Colombia. Maybe it’s watching Jonathan Schoop slug homers for the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It may just be the fact that I enjoy having a rooting interest in the “Kingdom of the Netherlands.”

Whatever the case, the WBC isn’t a necessary evil, but it is here. It’s providing baseball of a somewhat competitive nature in March. That’s more than can be said for Grapefruit and Cactus League games. I’m sure much of my viewing interest will go down over the next few days as the NCAA Tournament begins, but I’ve still enjoyed it thus far, despite my previous apprehensions.

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About Andrew Stetka

Andrew Stetka
Andrew is a Bel Air, MD native who moved to Arizona in February 2011 and brought his passion for Baltimore sports to the desert. He previously worked at 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore as a producer and weekend host and is now a writer and editor for a national newswire...more

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