Jim Henneman: Orioles’ Rotation Comes Into Focus … Plus, A Dark Horse For The Roster?

SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles’ starting rotation didn’t shake out as predicted, at least for the early weeks of the season, but manager Brandon Hyde’s lineup did shed light on some maneuvers of the last week.

Bruce Zimmermann being slotted No. 3 explains why he was relegated to back field work last week rather than face the Red Sox, who will be the opponent for each of his first two starts of the season. The fact that on March 24 Dean Kremer faced the Red Sox for the second time may even shed some light on the rest of the five-man rotation, which Hyde appears set to use right from the start.

Jorge Lopez will fill out the rotation, and if he falls into the fourth spot then Kremer will miss the Red Sox, who the Orioles will face in six of their first nine games.

Regardless of how it shakes out, it does present the unusual situation of the Orioles using two left-handers in right-hand friendly Fenway Park and two right-handers in Yankee Stadium, which favors left-handed hitters, but where the home team lineup features right-handed power. We won’t bother to go into the analytics here … suffice it to say the youth-oriented Orioles’ staff will be tested right out of the gate.

Matt Harvey, the club’s leading reclamation project, is the one truly experienced starter in the group, and the veteran right-hander is lined up for the second game — and also the Orioles’ home opener April 8. His final tune-up March 28 was a passable five-inning, five-hit, two-run, two-walk, three-strikeout effort in the 2-1 loss to the Pirates. It also featured another spotless performance by César Valdez, whose versatility makes him either a fit as the closer — or backup for the starting rotation.

Meanwhile there isn’t concern about John Means, who gets the Opening Day assignment in Boston April 1, though he has had an uneven spring, capped by a three-plus-inning effort in his last outing. He attributed his tiring fourth inning to reaction to a vaccine shot received earlier in the day.

With the makeup of the pitching staff still a matter of speculation, with many roster decisions hanging in the balance, the one non-roster candidate who remains somewhat of a mystery is right-hander Conner Greene, who has struck out 10 without issuing a walk in his nine innings of work. A minor-league invitee, he at the least will be watched closely at the alternate site in Bowie — and may even be a dark-horse candidate to make the Opening Day roster.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox