Who is the likely roster move when Brian Roberts comes off the disabled list? -- Tom F., Baltimore
The Orioles' infield picture gets crowded with Roberts' return -- which will be Tuesday, barring a setback -- and Steve Tolleson could be the odd-man out. Tolleson, who homered in Sunday's extra-innings win, has played well, but doesn't figure to get a lot of playing time if Roberts is healthy and at second base.
Robert Andino, who has been the team's second baseman, will probably take over more of a super-utility role, becoming what manager Buck Showalter calls "an irregular regular" in getting four to five starts a week at third base, shortstop, second base and possibly the corner-outfield spots. Tolleson is capable of playing the outfield, but the Orioles also have Steve Pearce, who has done well since being acquired from the Yankees on the team's last road trip. Rule 5 Draft pick Ryan Flaherty can't get sent down without being offered back to his original team, the Cubs. And the O's aren't in a position to go short on arms, unless they go back on their decision to put Jake Arrieta in the bullpen, making Tolleson the path of least resistance.
Do I expect Roberts to jump right in as the team's starting second baseman? Not quite. Roberts hasn't played in a Major League game since May 2011, and Showalter will tread lightly, giving Andino some starts and tinkering with the lineup to try to find the best way to keep Roberts healthy and productive.
Getting the 34-year-old Roberts a few starts at designated hitter is also a strong possibility, especially in the early going. While Roberts fared well on his rehab assignment, it's a whole different level in the bigs and the team is dealing with some uncharted territory in its longest-tenured player coming back from a concussion.
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What are the chances of Jamie Moyer cracking the rotation? -- Lou B., Baltimore
If he keeps pitching like he did Saturday, pretty good.
The 49-year-old Moyer pitched five scoreless innings in his Triple-A Norfolk debut at Buffalo, allowing one hit and no walks with five strikeouts. The veteran lefty, who was signed to a Minor League contract on Wednesday, is essentially getting an audition of two or three starts in Triple-A, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette indicated Moyer would get at least that many chances before being reevaluated.
So while Moyer appears to be a long shot for Saturday's start, if he proves to still have something left in the tank, Baltimore won't hesitate to give him an opportunity. Right now, the team's starting rotation is struggling, and stabilizing it would go a long way in helping the Orioles stay in the American League East race.
Moyer was 2-5 with a 5.70 ERA in 10 starts with the Rockies this season before getting his release. He missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, and Duquette said last week the Orioles are hopeful Moyer is still regaining strength and will return to his previous form.
Zach Britton seems to be having some trouble with his command. Has he reported shoulder discomfort? How has his stuff been? -- John D., Lancaster, Pa.
If Britton has been reporting shoulder discomfort, the organization would have shut him down immediately, so that's not the case. The issue seems to be Britton getting back to his old form, a process that is taking longer than expected and one that's no longer a matter of rehabbing so much as simply pitching. The organization's decision to take Britton off rehab assignment and option him to Triple-A Norfolk seemed to be a pretty clear sign that he's over the physical issue of left shoulder impingement that put him on the DL, and now it's time for him to perform well enough to earn a call to Baltimore.
So far, the 24-year-old Britton hasn't done that, pitching to a 5.91 ERA over his first two starts for Norfolk. Stuff-wise, there haven't been any serious concerns -- he just doesn't look particularly crisp. The command hasn't been there, but even at his best, Britton -- who relies on his sinkerball -- has never had a great ratio in the regard. His velocity has improved since starting his rehab assignment, but he's going to have to string together a few quality outings before the Orioles consider bringing up him.
Any updates on Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis? -- Rich D., Pasadena, Md.
The Orioles seem encouraged by how Reimold is feeling at extended spring camp, and they are waiting for the last few "trouble spots" to go away before the left fielder can ease back into baseball activities. Most of Reimold's pain is gone, and once he gets cleared to begin doing baseball activities, it will be three to four weeks, including a rehab assignment, before he's ready to return. Reimold, who is on the DL with a herniated disk in his neck, hasn't played since April 30, so it will be a process that will take some time. The best-case scenario is the Orioles get him back around the All-Star break, which would be a significant boost, given that Reimold was arguably the team's hottest hitter in the season's first month. But that will depend on when he gets cleared to start baseball activities and how he responds in those.
Markakis was scheduled to have his stitches removed Monday, and his progression should become clearer after that. What isn't up for debate is how badly the 28-year-old Markakis wants to return, and his target date of late June is still possible. You can bet Markakis will do everything in his power to expedite his timetable -- Showalter has mentioned the biggest problem is making sure he doesn't try to sneak in some swings -- although the recovery time in hamate surgery varies considerably.
Is it too early for the Orioles to be seeking a trade for another starter? If Roberts comes back and the O's get Britton back throwing well by July 1, wouldn't another starter be logical if Jake Arrieta can't find it and/or Tommy Hunter is still struggling with home runs? -- Chris V., Baltimore
I don't think it's too early to look for rotation upgrades, I just don't think there's a whole lot out there. You'd be hard-pressed to find a team in early June who wants to trade away a viable starting pitcher, particularly with how many teams are still in their respective division races. And even if you did, what do you propose the Orioles give up? The team isn't trading away top prospects Dylan Bundy or Manny Machado, and Dan Duquette has made it pretty clear his intent is to build up through the farm system, which right now isn't exactly brimming with potential beyond a few top names. You aren't going to get a significant upgrade to the rotation, especially in the AL East, without parting with some talent.
Duquette has said before he prefers to stay away from signing expensive free-agent starting pitchers, given the risk -- and there's essentially no one left in that market, anyway -- and the Orioles' best chance of an upgrade is an internal one. Arrieta and Hunter have both shown they can be effective Major League pitchers. They need to make the adjustments -- particularly the 26-year-old Arrieta, who has looked lost for the past month. Getting one or both of them back on track, and having Britton put together a solid stretch at Triple-A, would go a long way in helping the Orioles, who seem to be winning lately in spite of their starting pitching. Chris Tillman has thrown well in Triple-A and could become a rotation candidate, along with Moyer.