Predicting the Baltimore Orioles Opening Day Pitching Staff for 2012

Alex SnyderContributor IIJanuary 24, 2012

Predicting the Baltimore Orioles Opening Day Pitching Staff for 2012

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    With spring training rapidly approaching, many teams, their fans and the beat writers around them are having fun trying to figure out their Opening Day lineups and pitching staffs.

    Of course, there's still plenty of time and opportunities for teams to make moves that could alter present predictions, and I'm sure more moves will be made to nearly every team.

    But right now, the Baltimore Orioles have what they have, and I'm going to take my best guess as to who's going to be pitching for them at Camden Yards come April 6.

    Obviously, I can't predict future moves, so I'm going to have to go off of what the Orioles currently have. However, if they make a signing and/or trade that involves the pitching staff, feel free to mentally make those edits.

    Let's begin.

No. 1 Starter: Jeremy Guthrie

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    Assuming he's still with the Orioles at the start of this season, Guthrie will be again taking the ball on Opening Day. That much is almost certain.

    There isn't anyone left on the market who would instantly become the Orioles' ace, and if there were, the O's wouldn't be willing to pony up the dollars and years for him. And they don't have the resources to swing a trade for a top starter. Therefore, Guthrie is going to be that man.

    Solid but not an ace, Guthrie will be looking to improve his numbers from last year, and while they weren't bad, he's shown that he can pitch better than that.

    His durability and mass quantities of quality innings are what's most appealing about him, and being assured of at least 180-200 innings a year out of him is a huge asset to an otherwise young and unproven pitching staff.

No. 2 Starter: Wei-Yin Chen

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    When the O's signed Wei-Yin Chen, they expected to be getting a good, mid-rotation type starter for their team.

    Well, mid-rotation type on the Orioles means "You're going to be our No. 2 guy."

    I'm thinking Chen impresses manager Buck Showalter in spring training and forces his way to becoming the No. 2 starter on the team after going into the spring thought to be the No. 3 or 4 guy for the team.

    Chen will then go on to have a solid, but not completely dominant, rookie season in the bigs, and even garner a little bit of Rookie of the Year consideration.

No. 3 Starter: Zach Britton

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    Though his 2011 rookie season wasn't spectacular, Zach Britton made a strong showing for a young pitcher, and will hold on to his rotation spot this spring by pitching well during the Grapefruit League season.

    Britton pitching behind Chen will give the O's back-to-back lefties in the rotation, but that's never a bad thing in a tough AL East loaded with powerful left-handed hitters.

    The young lefty hurler should only improve on his numbers from 2011, which means that the O's will have a top-of-the-rotation starter on their hands soon enough.

    It should be fun to watch what Britton does this season. The fate of the Orioles rests on him and a couple other young pitchers, one of which may be right behind him in the rotation...

No. 4 Starter: Jake Arrieta

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    Right-hander Jake Arrieta has so much potential that he has yet to realize at the major-league level. When he finally gets his hands on what he can do, the rest of the league better watch out.

    A bone spur injury in his pitching elbow limited him in 2011, but his season wasn't all bad, as he did have 10 wins. His ERA and walks definitely need to come down, but once he begins to attack hitters and trust his great stuff, those stats will improve.

    He had surgery for the bone spur around the end of the season last year, and has stated that he's recovering nicely and on time, and will be ready to compete for a starting spot in spring training.

    My guess is that he comes back better than ever and locks down the No. 4 spot, slowly improving throughout the season and eventually becoming one of the most consistent and dependable starters for the O's by the year's end.

No. 5 Starter: Tommy Hunter

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    In 2010 with the Texas Rangers, Tommy Hunter proved that he can be a very nice starter, and that was in even more of a hitter's park than Camden Yards is.

    Hunter will beat out the other pitchers, most notably Japanese lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, for the fifth starter spot because Buck Showalter loves his pitching style, and the fact that he can eat up some innings.

    The big righty goes into every start with the mentality that he is going to have to pitch nine innings for the team, so he's no slacker when it comes to wanting to throw as many innings as possible.

    He's not going to give you the prettiest game every time out, giving up at least two, sometimes three or four runs each time out, but he's going to put everything out there on the field for his team.

    Plus, there has been talk that he's dropped some weight and added a little muscle this offseason, which should help him in the long haul. Hopefully, that will make him more effective.

Long Relief/Swingman: Brad Bergesen

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    Brad Bergesen would love to return to the form he showed for around a half a season in 2009 before a comeback liner to the shin ended his rookie campaign.

    Since then, he has been mediocre at best, and bounced around between the starting rotation, the bullpen, and AAA Norfolk.

    As much as I'd love to see him return to being the steady force he was when he first came up, I just don't see it happening, at least not to start the season. But I don't think he'll pitch terribly during spring training, and earn himself the long reliever role in the bullpen.

    He'll get his time to start. There's always injuries to every team's pitching staff every year. He'll be one of the first, if not the first, to get the ball when that happens. And then, it's all in his hands as to what he does with it.

Middle Relievers: Alfredo Simon, Kevin Gregg

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    Alfredo Simon and Kevin Gregg are both interesting cases.

    Simon has shown flashes of dominance, and others of mediocrity. However, if used properly, he can be a force in the bullpen, and a powerful weapon for his manager.

    The other great thing about him is that he was originally a starter, so if a sudden spot-start were needed, he could fill in and give the team 4-5 innings, and quickly stretch out to become an innings eater if he were saddled in for a more long-term substitution.

    With Gregg, the O's have a guy who was signed to close, but didn't get the job done the way they had hoped (gee, I could have told them that would happen before the signing occurred). Now, they're just hoping to get through the last guaranteed season of his contract with as little damage as possible.

    Unless there's a sudden turnaround in his pitching, expect him to be used for little more than mop-up duty and a save situation here and there, when the regular closer is way too tired to go in.

Middle Relief/Lefty Specialist: Tsuyoshi Wada

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    Though Tsuyoshi Wada was originally brought in to be a starter, the rotation got a little bit more crowded after the Wei-Yin Chen's signing, and Wada could be pushed into the bullpen.

    He'll still compete for a rotation spot in the spring, and who knows, maybe he'll win one. But if it comes down between him and Chen, one would have to assume that Chen would get the spot since he has better stuff and is younger with more upside.

    Even still, Wada could prove to be a useful arm for the Orioles' bullpen, and is another candidate for spot starts were he to not make the rotation.

    I fully expect Wada to bring back equal value for the two-year, $8.15 million deal he signed with Baltimore, regardless of whether he starts of works in relief.

Set-Up Men: Pedro Strop, Troy Patton

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    Strop came over to Baltimore in late 2011 and did nothing but impress during the final few weeks of the season, and I believe he will carry that success over in 2012.

    It's pretty much assumed that he has a bullpen spot waiting with his name on it, and barring a massive meltdown, will report north with the big club come Opening Day. But I say he takes it a step further, and secures the responsibility of a set-up job. There, he'll continue to impress, and even possibly be the first candidate to fill in at closer should that be necessary.

    Patton, on the other hand (literally), would provide a lefty alternative to the right-handed throwing Strop late in the game.

    During his call-up last season, Patton impressed manager Showalter immensely, and I think he can come into spring training and improve upon how he performed last season, earning himself a late-inning role on the team.

    If these two continue their success, they should be a lot of fun to watch.

Closer: Jim Johnson

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    As much as I would have liked to see him get the chance to start, it appears as though Jim Johnson will remain in the bullpen.

    He did a fantastic job as the closer the last month, month and a half of the 2011 season, and will probably come into spring training with that being his job to lose.

    If he can't be a starter, the O's would probably get the best usage out of Johnson at closer, since he has a large assortment of pitches for a bullpen guy, and his stuff is great, especially his heavy and hard sinkerball, as well as the ability to pitch on back-to-back nights.

    Johnson will likely be the strongest bullpen piece Showalter will have at his disposal in 2012.