Starter sur­plus could be loom­ing

Six-man ro­ta­tion is a pos­si­bil­ity for Ori­oles when Till­man re­turns from dis­abled list

Baltimore Sun - - ORIOLES - By Ed­uardo A. Encina eencina@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/Ed­dieInTheYard

ST. PETERS­BURG, FLA. — With right-han­der Chris Till­man’s re­turn from the dis­abled list on the hori­zon and the rest of the Ori­oles ro­ta­tion hav­ing stepped up in the ace’s ab­sence, man­ager Buck Showalter could face the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing a sur­plus of start­ing pitch­ing for the first time this sea­son.

When the Ori­oles placed righthander Ubaldo Jimenez back into the ro­ta­tion, it was by de­fault, and the team hoped he could hold his own dur­ing a crit­i­cal stretch in the sea­son un­til Till­man re­turned from a shoul­der in­jury.

Jimenez has ably done the job, high­lighted by Mon­day af­ter­noon’s com­plete-game win over the Tampa Bay Rays — the kind of out­ing the Ori­oles need now more than ever. Add in the steps taken by Kevin Gaus­man and Dy­lan Bundy, and the pitch­ing could be turn­ing the cor­ner just as Till­man is sched­uled to re­turn from the dis­abled list Sun­day.

With the Ori­oles head­ing into Tues­day night’s game at Tampa Bay cling­ing to the sec­ond Amer­i­can League wild-card spot — they en­tered the night tied with a Detroit Tigers team they will visit this week­end — this is the time for the ro­ta­tion to reach its stride.

“We’ve talked about it all the time,” pitch­ing coach Dave Wal­lace said. “My phi­los­o­phy has been through all the years if you do what you need to do through­out the sea­son, those last four or five weeks of the sea­son, hope­fully ev­ery­one is phys­i­cally stronger be­cause you haven’t over­worked them, and men­tally stronger be­cause they know what’s at stake. And so far, these guys have sort of taken that to heart.”

Showalter isn’t get­ting too far ahead of him­self, say­ing Till­man still has ob­sta­cles to over­come be­fore the Ori­oles can con­sider them­selves to have a sur­plus of pitch­ing op­tions. Till­man is sched­uled to pitch a bullpen ses­sion to­day and have a light toss Fri­day be­fore re­turn­ing to start Sun­day in Detroit.

“We still have some hur­dles to cross there,” Showalter said. “And then there’s the Detroit Tigers. There’s one thing to be healthy. Can you be ef­fec­tive? I’ll never feel like we have a sur­plus. That’s such a mov­ing tar­get, and such an un­pre­dictable thing. If Chris comes back and is healthy, then yes. But a lot of it has to do with Bundy’s emer­gence, and Gaus has got­ten bet­ter and bet­ter. And Ubaldo has pitched some good games for us, and we think that we might have Till­man around the cor­ner.”

When Till­man re­turns, Showalter will likely en­ter­tain the thought of go­ing to a six-man ro­ta­tion down the stretch, but he has never been a fan of that, and has de­clined to do it in the past. He likes to keep his starters in a rou­tine in which they know they’re get­ting the ball ev­ery five days.

“So we’re just go­ing to look at it each day,” Showalter said. “It’s kind of like the lineup. See who we’re pitch­ing, see who they’re pitch­ing, see where the matchups fall, and go for it. There’s a lot of things you’re do­ing right now that you might not have done in April, May or June.”

Play­ing matchups would al­low the Ori­oles to choose when to give an ex­tra day to a pitcher, and could help keep Bundy and Gaus­man fresh through Septem­ber as they both reach the high­est in­ning to­tals of their ca­reers.

Gaus­man has pitched 146 in­nings this sea­son and is look­ing bet­ter than ever. He will soon sur­pass his ca­reer high of 1582⁄ in­nings, reached in 2014. Bundy’s 902⁄ in­nings are his most since he pitched 1032⁄ — mostly in the mi­nors — in 2012, the sea­son be­fore he un­der­went Tommy John el­bow re­con­struc­tion.

“It de­pends on how your ro­ta­tion is put to­gether,” Wal­lace said about con­sid­er­ing a six-man ro­ta­tion. “If you have young guys who need a break, it works great. If you have some veter­ans who like it on ev­ery fourth or fifth day, you’re fight­ing that, too.

“I’m sure Buck will tell you, we go over every­thing. What are we go­ing to do mov­ing for­ward? If you can tell me what’s go­ing to hap­pen in tonight’s game, I’ll an­swer that ques­tion. [Mon­day] was the first com­plete game of the year, so we’re prob­a­bly go­ing to go through some pitch­ing ev­ery night and how that man­i­fests it­self is how we’ll re­act to it.”

Jimenez — who has a 2.70 ERA over his past four starts — has taken advantage of the op­por­tu­nity to start again. Left-han­der Wade Mi­ley has been un­spec­tac­u­lar in seven starts since he was ac­quired the day be­fore the non­waiver trade dead­line. His ERA with the Ori­oles is 5.44. Right-han­der Yo­vani Gal­lardo (5-7), who started and won Tues­day night at Trop­i­cana Field, has nav­i­gated rough wa­ters of his own but has four qual­ity starts in his past seven out­ings. He gave up two runs (one earned) on five hits with five strike­outs and a walk. He gave up a lead­off homer to Lo­gan Forsythe in the first in­ning.

“I’m go­ing to take each day, each sit­u­a­tion and each matchup, and de­cide who our op­tions are and what’s our best chance to win that night,” Showalter said. “We haven’t had a sur­plus of start­ing pitch­ing, so we will look at it.”

KARL MERTON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Chris Till­man, on the dis­abled list with a shoul­der problem, is sched­uled to pitch a bullpen ses­sion to­day and would start Sun­day in Detroit.

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