Could Tillman be left out?

Although it has been widely speculated that Chris Tillman
will be named the Orioles fifth starter out of Spring Training, manager Dave
Trembley and president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail both said Saturday
that no decision has been made.

If anything, the decision has gotten tougher and more
multi-faceted as camp has progressed. Jason Berken and David Hernandez have
both turned in solid performances as of late, furthering speculation that
Tillman could start the season at Triple-A.

“The thing we try to impress on the kids is the obvious fact
that nobody uses the same 12 pitchers all year,” MacPhail said. “The beginning
of the season is just a snapshot in time.”

MacPhail said that Hernandez and Berken are “absolutely” still
in contention for the team’s fifth spot and acknowledged that the heated competition
has been a welcome one.

“What I was telling our staff is we got guys competing for
our spots and we don’t have spots competing for guys,” MacPhail said. “And that
is a pleasant development particularly as it relates to our pitching.”

Trembley has called the team’s bullpen competition a
dogfight, and following Hernandez’s five shutout innings on Saturday, he used a
similar comparison to describe what’s going on with the back end of the
rotation.

“I would say we’re going to go 15 rounds with it,”
Trembley said. “We’re going to go the distance and keep battling and keep
running these guys out here and try to make the right decision and the best
decision. Guys are answering the bell and they’re making it real tough for me.
And I like it.”

The Orioles schedule to open the 2010 season makes middle relievers, specifically long-inning men, a necessity. Since the team will go with a 12-man pitching staff this season having  flexibility in the bullpen, which a guy like Berken could potentially provide, is a must. A scenario such as April 8 and 9, where the team will play a night contest in Tampa before their home opener at 3 p.m. in Baltimore the next afternoon, puts extra emphasis on having guys who can toss multiple innings of relief.

Baltimore plays 16 straight games starting April 6 in Tampa Bay, which leaves no opportunity to skip a rotation slot since there are no off days. It also puts the O’s bullpen in a tough spot should a starter falter and force an early exit.  Berken, who tossed four scoreless innings to follow Tillman on Friday, has been stretched out this spring and could provide another option as a long relief or spot starter. Right now, the team’s only option in that role would be lefty Mark Hendrickson.

Hernandez thrust his name to the forefront of the No. 5 starter job with his most recent outing. He retired nine of the first 10 Red Sox batters he faced Saturday, allowing four hits over five scoreless innings with six strikeouts. He lowered his ERA to a 3.00 in the process and impressed Trembley with his tenacity and ability to escape several key jams -including a bases-loaded, no outs, scenario in the fourth.

Although he started the season pitching out of the ‘pen, Hernandez has capitalized on the recent opportunities he’s been given to start. He made his first appearance as a starter on March 16 and is 1-1 in two official spring starts, excluding a 75-pitch outing in a Minor League game last week.  In 15 innings, Hernandez has allowed five earned runs and has 20 strikeouts to three walks. He said Saturday he has not been given any indication as to where -or in what role — he will start the season.

“I’m just trying to go out there and do the best I can every performance,” Hernandez said.  “Whether it’s good enough or not, all I can say is I went out and gave it my best effort. And [Saturday] the results indicated that.”

To his credit, Tillman has said all along that he has approached this spring as a situation he must win, rather than have it handed to him. The 21-year-old was visibly frustrated with Friday’s performance, which was an 88-pitch outing that yielded two runs on four walks and four hits.  It’s worth noting that Tillman’s struggles came against a Minnesota lineup that didn’t have the power bats of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, two Twins who would certainly be in a regular season game. 

In five spring games, Tillman has a 3.86 ERA, allowing seven earned runs over 16 1/3 innings.  His strikeout-to-walk ratio (9k/10BB) is a glaring statistic, particularly given the fact that the Orioles have made it clear the kid gloves are off and they won’t carry that extra 13th pitcher.

Although Berken is still considered more of a long shot to swoop in for the fifth spot, he has pitched his way into recognition, particularly in that sorely-needed middle relief role.So far, he has not been stretched as far as the other two, but Berken has had a solid spring and certainly has built up enough arm strength to pitch for long stretches out of the ‘pen.

Berken has a 2.84 ERA this spring, with seven strikeouts against three walks.

2 Comments

ho-hum…
Nothing but another OUTSTANDING and informative piece of writing here on Britt’s Bird Watch!!
Soldier on, fair Brittany…no reason a “rookie” cannot be the MVP of all mlb.com beat-writers. (Not too early to start calling her Fred Lynn Ghiroli.)

Funny, I think the competition is actually for the number 4 spot in the rotation. The way he is pitching, Guthrie has the number 5 spot locked up. I’ve seen Hernandez in person this spring and he looks great. Whoever, Tillman or Hernandez, does not get the spot out of spring training should be ready to replace Guthrie sometime this year. He needs to do lot better to stay in this rotation.

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