Orioles' Opening Day starter hidden among the bunch

SportsBaseballBaltimore OriolesWorld SeriesOriole Park at Camden YardsJason HammelMatt Harrison

Much has been made of the fact that there are a dozen candidates for the Orioles starting rotation, but that's only half the story.

The field of starting pitchers under consideration to be the Opening Day starter is almost as wide-open.

When the Orioles traded Jeremy Guthrie to the Colorado Rockies, they were left with no obvious choice to start against the Minnesota Twins in the regular-season opener on April 6 at Camden Yards, but they have plenty of pitchers to choose from.

Manager Buck Showalter said he really hasn't given it a lot of thought yet, for a variety of reasons — one of them simply that the designation may not be all that significant under the club's current circumstances.

"I know the connotation of that, but I don't look at it that way,'' he said. "Maybe that's just because of where we are, but I don't dwell on that kind of thing…It's not really a part of the conversation with the pitchers either, because a lot of them are just trying to make the club. I look at it as a strength that you have so many optionable players competing for your club. That's something a lot of people don't have."

The possibilities range from relative newcomer Tommy Hunter to recently acquired Jason Hammel, who has the most major league experience in the group. Jake Arrieta pitched the home opener last year — though it wasn't Opening Day — and has a chance if he is as healthy as advertised after surgery to remove that big spur from his elbow. Throw in Asian pitchers Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada and journeyman Dana Eveland and the Orioles certainly have the makings of an interesting competition.

Hunter, however, agrees with Showalter that being named the Opening Day starter is not his primary goal — and should be the main focus of anyone of the candidates for the rotation. He's looking way beyond that.

"I think, the more you're here, the more your goals change,'' Hunter said. "I don't think these guys know what it means to play in October. Having done that and being a part of a World Series team, I'd much rather do that than pitch on Opening Day."

Hunter didn't stop there. He surveyed the clubhouse and made a comparison that should come as music to the ears of beleaguered Orioles fans. He thinks there actually are some similarities between the situation facing the O's this spring and the Texas Rangers team he played for in 2010. That team opened spring training with a very young rotation and ended up in the World Series.

"It was an unproven staff,'' Hunter said. "You had three guys that were right at two years or under and – Matt Harrison, myself and Derek Holland. CJ Wilson was our go-to guy and it was his first year as a starter in five years. We just went in with nothing to lose and look what happened. It's a very similar situation."

Hunter isn't making any wild predictions, just reminding everyone of the you-never-know nature of baseball.

"It can happen to anyone,'' Hunter said. "I honestly believe that if you get a group of guys committed to one goal…If you've got a group of guys that believe in something hard enough, you're going to get there. That's what it takes. It definitely takes a little talent. It definitely takes a little luck. It takes people playing above their capabilities."

Bundy's bullpen

Top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy threw his first outdoor bullpen session on Wednesday and drew quite a crowd of media and club officials. Virtually everyone covering the Orioles or connected with the club was on hand to see him throw for about 10 minutes. His only previous session was during the bio-mechanical testing.

He looked comfortable and confident, but nobody is evaluating anything at this point. The important thing, from the club's standpoint, is just to allow him to settle in and get a taste of big league camp. No one is saying how long he will be here, but Showalter already has said that he is not competing for a place on the 25-man Opening Day roster.

"I felt great," Bundy said. "I had a great catcher back there too. I love it when I get a low target. Brian (Ward) was sitting on the ground the whole time, so it was easy to hit the mitt every time."

Bundy said he is just trying to stay as even-keel as possible and get the most out of the experience.

"It's just baseball,'' he said. "It's the same stuff as high school basically. It's just a bigger locker room with bigger names in it. It's the same thing as high school basically. It's a lot bigger, a lot faster pace of game, and a lot bigger people."

Wieters on Wada, Chen

Catcher Matt Wieters caught Wada's bullpen session on Tuesday and Chen's on Wednesday and said he was impressed with both.

On Wada: "He's ready to go. He locating four pitches on both sides of the plate. That's the type of pitcher he is. It went well."

On Chen: "The ball came out of his hand very well. And more importantly, his location for this part of the spring was good. He worked both sides of the plate. He didn't miss very many spots. For the first day out of the bullpen catching him, I was impressed."

On communicating with them: "Fastball, changeup, curveball, slider. They know all those terms. We'll work on further communication later."

Around the horn

The Orioles had to scramble for some catching help after Dane Sardinha failed his physical and left camp. They called in minor leaguer Michael Ulman to help out – because he lives in the area – and have summoned Caleb Joseph to report to big league camp. Showalter said the Orioles also are close to signing another catcher with Triple-A experience to assign to minor league camp.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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