O’s hoping young pitchers step up

So what happens to the Orioles if ’s cranky right shoulder stays cranky for awhile?

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“I look at it as a great opportunity for somebody,” manager Buck Showalter said. “There’s an opportunity created by fate sometimes. Sometimes, it’s a trade. Sometimes, it’s an injury.”

This is the issue the Orioles have wrestled with this entire Spring Training. They are a team with few holes. The O’s defense and bullpen are among baseball’s best. Their offense led the planet in home runs last season.

The Orioles have a franchise player in third baseman and a clubhouse environment that’s as good as any. As for the manager, Showalter, there’s none better.

Now, about that other thing. Right, the starting rotation. Last season, Baltimore’s starters had the highest ERA (4.72) of any postseason team. Only two American League teams had higher ERAs, and neither came close to the playoffs.

To remove Tillman, the ace, from the equation for more than a few weeks might justify some of the people picking the O’s, as usual, to finish last in the AL East. They were also picked to finish last in 2016, a campaign in which they won 89 games and made the postseason for the third time in five seasons.

Since Opening Day 2012, Baltimore has been a popular fourth- or fifth-place pick. In that time, it has won more games (444) than any other AL team. But picking the Birds to finish at the bottom has become a tough habit to break.

“Honestly, we don’t really pay all that much attention,” first baseman said.

No kidding. Anyway, making the postseason with Tillman missing a large chunk of time would be quite a feat. The Orioles were 22-8 last season in his starts and 67-65 when anyone else got the ball.

This year, it will be Gausman who officially starts the Orioles’ season on Monday as he was tabbed — in the wake of injury to Chris Tillman — to get the ball first and face the Toronto Blue Jays for the 3:05 p.m. ET home contest.

“Not so much nervous, just anxious. I know it’s going to be awesome,” said Gausman, who will be part of the rotation for the first time on an Opening Day roster. “I love pitching in Baltimore, so I’m happy that it’s at home. Hopefully the first of many, but like I said, pretty exciting and definitely looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun with cheap baseball jersey.”

Gausman getting the nod in place of the injured Tillman doesn’t come as a surprise. He’s had a solid spring and emerged last season as a consistent option for a rotation that often struggled to go deep into games.

“We had some options to pick from, we just thought Kevin was the best equipped in a lot of different areas,” manager Buck Showalter said.

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“[He’s changed] a lot [the past few seasons]. He’s got a feel for when to charge and when not to charge. When to slow guys down, when not to slow guys down. He’s more of a complete pitcher instead of a guy who just throws 97, 98. You see him go get it when he needs it.

Mitchell And Ness 1988 Orioles #8 Cal Ripken Orange Throwback Stitched MLB Jersey“He looks at a start as hopefully a long one and he uses his bullets appropriately. This guy has a good feel for the big leagues … he’s learned a lot of things about how to pitch when he’s not carrying his best stuff. He’s a trustworthy guy now.”

The 26-year-old Gausman, who made the Opening Day roster as a reliever in 2015, went 9-12 with a 3.61 ERA in 30 starts last season. He pitched to a 3.10 ERA in the second half, going 8-6 after the All-Star break. His win on the final day of the season locked down a Wild Card spot for the Orioles.

“The biggest thing I did in the second half was get deep in games, which really is all you can try to do,” Gausman said. “I felt like I was more consistent like that in the second half and just kind of feel like I have hit the ground running this year so far.”

Of the group mentioned above, Aquino and Nuno are considered more long-relief options, with Logan Verrett the other solid candidate remaining in camp. Baltimore optioned and earlier this week, giving that spot a little more roster clarity.

The Orioles could have a potential starting pitcher in the bullpen, but the preference would be for guys like Wilson and Wright to begin the season with Triple-A Norfolk and stay on a consistent schedule. The more options the O’s have for April 15, the better.

It’s a fair question, though Manny Machado told reporters upon his return he felt like he was ahead of the game going into April. Over the course of a 162-game regular season that the O’s hope continues deep into fall, will the Classic guys be able to hold up?

The Orioles were an extremely well-represented team in this year’s thrilling tournament and, much to manager Buck Showalter’s chagrin, several played up until the end. This isn’t a question that will be answered before they open the season, and it may not be answered in the first half at all. But guys are generally pretty beat up by the time they get to August, pitchers and position players alike. And beyond health, will it be tough for them to adjust again to less intense April stadiums and cool climates when they’ve been playing in high-stakes, do-or-die games the past few weeks?

Players who participated in the Classic include Machado, Nuno, Adam Jones, , Jonathan Schoop and Welington Castillo.

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