Baltimore Orioles pitchers and catchers reported to work today for their first official workout, but it is the pitcher who did not take the mound that has drawn the most interest.
Chris Tillman, who has started the last three Opening Day games, will not make it four in a row after receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection his right shoulder in December.
Let’s give the Orioles some credit for doing a terrific job of keeping this mute. It’s been widely expected all winter long that Tillman would once lead the rotation heading into the new season. Now, we understand why Dan Duquette made the late move to land Gabriel Ynoa.
The O’s anticipate that Tillman could miss the first three weeks of the season if he lands on the disabled list. Working in the team’s favor is that they do not need a fifth starter for much of April. The club is hopeful that the three weeks is enough time to get Tillman back to full strength, without having to use a fifth starter. However, this could shake up the entire roster if the he needs to miss even more time.
Kevin Gausman will presumably take over as the Opening Day starter against the Toronto Blue Jays. The O’s have envisioned him as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher since his time in the minor leagues and Gausman will be amped up for the opportunity.
The problem that Buck Showalter will now face is who to slate behind Gausman. Most feel that Dylan Bundy is the No. 3 on this team, but the O’s would have liked to limit his innings in the first month. Showalter is now all but forced to use Bundy in April. The concern there is that Bundy wore down at the end of last season, and that was after not becoming a starter until mid-July.
The injury puts more pressure on Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley to perform well early in the season. Both started off slow in 2016 – including Jimenez being moved to the bullpen – but got better as the season progressed. If the veterans struggle out of the gate, Baltimore could find it difficult to compete in the American League East.
Losing Tillman also means one of the fringe starters I touched on in the five stories to watch in Sarasota has a legitimate shot of making the initial 25-man roster. Ynoa, Logan Verrett, Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson will each have an opportunity to showcase to the Orioles’ staff they can hold a spot down if needed.
Duquette could opt to bring in a free agent pitcher, but the available options are not promising. Just for fun, let’s throw some of names out there: Jered Weaver, Doug Fister, C.J. Wilson and Alfredo Simon. There is a reason why these guys are still on the market as teams are beginning Spring Training.
This will also impact how Buck uses the bullpen early on in the season. With the lack of experience in the back end of the rotation, he will be more inclined to pull a starter early and rely on his dominant bullpen to close out games.
Tillman was set to tie Jim Palmer for most consecutive starts on Opening Day. Instead, Showalter will have to find a way to manage this pitching staff without him.