Zach Britton is scheduled to make his first rehab start on Saturday and if all goes well he could be promoted to the Majors immediately, making one wonder who he should replace in the Orioles rotation.
The Orioles' hot start to the season is even more remarkable when one considers that they have had several injuries to key members of the team.
Power hitter Mark Reynolds has been sidelined with an oblique injury, budding star Nolan Reimold has been out for nearly all of May, Brian Roberts just started his rehab after missing an entire year, relief pitcher Matt Lindstrom is also missing time and backups Taylor Teagarden, Endy Chavez and Ronny Polino are all on the DL.
Another key piece the O's are missing is preseason ace Britton. After winning 11 games for the Orioles last season, Britton was supposed to take the next step in his progression and be a reliable front-of-the-rotation starter.
A spring training injury and procedure have led to the a lengthy rehab that will hopefully conclude on Saturday for the young lefty.
If Britton is able to return to Baltimore by next weekend, the Orioles will have to move one of their starters either to Triple-A Norfolk or to the bullpen.
Right now, Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen are pitching as good or better than any duo in the big leagues so their rotation spots are safe. It is unlikely the Orioles would move Jake Arrieta who has dominated at times but struggled as well from the rotation because of his plus-stuff.
So that leaves Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz for the final available spot following Britton's return. Those who dwell on Matusz and his historically disastrous season and the fact that he started the year so terribly will say it is a slam dunk that Hunter should receive the rotation spot.
Matusz though, appears to have turned a corner. Over his past six starts he has an ERA of 3.57 and has won four games. That is impressive. Hunter is 1-1 with an ERA of 4.71 over that same time frame.
Hunter has been a nice pitcher for the Orioles but his ERA for the season is 5.07 and he struggles the second and third time through the batting order. Opponents' OPS against him during his first 30 pitches of an outing is well below .700, but at pitches 31-60, they hit him at an OPS of nearly 1.000.
Basically, that says Hunter is pretty effective first time through the order but then gets shelled as he pitches deeper into games. That says that he is probably better suited for a role out of the bullpen, which he has done while with Texas.
This is not so much a reflection on Hunter as it is a result of Matusz pitching up to his potential.
In fact if Matusz can produce at this rate for the remainder of the season the Orioles have a real shot of winning the A.L. East. With Hammel, Chen, Britton, Arrieta and Matusz, for the first time in a long time the O's will have a chance to win every day they take the field.
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