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Baltimore Orioles
INSIDE PITCH

  Inside Pitch | Notes, Quotes | Roster Report | Player News

The Baltimore Orioles faced a few major questions in the offseason, and they answered most of them.

They'll platoon, in some form, the corner outfield spots. Welington Castillo takes over for Matt Wieters as the regular catcher, and they re-signed Mark Trumbo.

But the biggest question will take a while to answer: Is the starting rotation strong enough to carry this team?

What made that question even tougher to answer is the shoulder soreness that sidelined No. 1 starter Chris Tillman. There's no projected date yet for his return after he missed nearly all of spring training and even got a cortisone shot in mid-March.

Kevin Gausman is coming off a strong second half of 2016, and manager Buck Showalter said the right-hander will take the ball on Opening Day vs. the Toronto Blue Jays. Gausman really helped carry the Orioles to a playoff appearance last year and threw well again in spring training.

"I felt good in the spring," Gausman told The Baltimore Sun. "I've been throwing the ball well, throwing a lot of strikes. I'm happy with where I'm at right now.'

Dylan Bundy will pitch next, and after that comes Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez in some order with no fifth starter needed until mid-month. There's still a question as to who will go in the No. 5 spot. It could be left-handers Jayson Aquino or Chris Lee or right-hander Tyler Wilson as Tillman likely won't be ready.

The bullpen should be strong again, led by closer Zach Britton (47-for-47 in save opportunities last year) and right-handers Darren O'Day and All-Star Brad Brach. But they've also got some younger pitchers who really helped in 2016 and could do even more this year; right-hander Mychal Givens and left-hander Donnie Hart have impressed manager Buck Showalter.

"That's what you look for guys who kind of came onto the scene," Showalter told The Baltimore Sun. "Are they continuing to grow? Are they taking the experiences they've had and using them? There's a certain calmness and tempo to their workouts, to everything. You can tell they're moving to the finish line."

The offense and defense will give the starters plenty of support, but they don't want to win games by having to outscore the opposition. That's too risky, and it happened too often in 2016.

Baltimore led the major leagues with 253 homers last year and finished with five players who hit at least 25 home runs. All of them, including Trumbo (MLB-best 47 homers) return, but the Orioles should have more speed this year thanks to outfielders Joey Rickard, Craig Gentry and Seth Smith.

The defense also should be solid. Losing catcher Matt Wieters to free agency hurts, but the infield will be solid, and center fielder Adam Jones, one of the best in baseball, anchors the outfield.

In the end, the biggest issue once again comes back to the starting rotation. If Tillman remains out for a long period, what will the Orioles do in the No. 5 spot? And can Miley and Jimenez find the consistency they couldn't last year?

Also, can Gausman and Bundy pitch consistently in the top two spots? These are questions to which the Orioles need good answers if they want to make the playoffs once more.



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