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Trembley getting Orioles in order

Trembley getting Orioles in order

BALTIMORE -- The Grapefruit League season is rapidly approaching, and Orioles manager Dave Trembley has the littered legal pad to prove it. Baltimore may not be done shopping for help on the pitching front, at first base or at catcher, but Trembley has already begun brainstorming potential lineups and roster construction for Spring Training and beyond.

One thing is certain, he said, when reached at home Friday morning: the Orioles' theme for the upcoming season will be to promote competition among their prospects and holdover veterans, and Trembley will preside over the evaluation process.

"I've gotten all the information -- I've gotten all the statistics," he said. "I've played with some different scenarios and I've talked to all the coaches. I'm on the phone every day with either [pitching coach] Rick Kranitz or [bench coach] Dave Jauss. ... It will be here before you know it, but the first thing I want to get settled is the pitching. We have to decide if we're going to go with 12 or 13 pitchers again, and we're probably leaning towards going with 13. We're going to really have to take a look at these guys."

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The Orioles recently signed southpaw Mark Hendrickson to improve the depth in their bullpen and rotation, and they're expected to announce the acquisition of Japanese free agent Koji Uehara in the middle of next week. Still, Baltimore's rotation is only two or three arms deep, and Trembley will have to evaluate several back-end candidates throughout Spring Training.

By contrast, the bullpen is all but decided. Barring injuries, Baltimore has reserved slots for Chris Ray, George Sherrill, Jim Johnson and Dennis Sarfate, and Hendrickson and southpaw specialist Jamie Walker are also expected to be in the mix. That leaves perhaps two relief jobs up in the air, and Trembley may have as many as seven or eight men competing for it.

"I talked to Mark the other day about it," Trembley said of Hendrickson. "He's preparing himself this offseason to be a starter, but I told him that we brought him in to fill a need as another left-hander and a long guy out of the bullpen, with the possibility that if we need another starter, he could be the guy. I told him that would work itself out in Spring Training."

The same could be said for several other swingman types -- chief among them Brian Bass, Brian Burres and Matt Albers. All three will be considered for long-relief jobs and could also throw their hat in the ring for a starting slot with a strong spring. Albers thrived as a reliever last year before coming down with a shoulder injury and will have to be monitored closely throughout the spring.

As for the rotation, Trembley said he's still considering Radhames Liz as a starter and that he hopes Garrett Olson will use last year's adversity as a learning experience. Chris Waters may also warrant a look after a decent audition last summer, and injured veteran Danys Baez hopes to prove that he's healthy and compete for a rotation slot of his own.

The Orioles will also closely monitor upper-level prospects like David Hernandez, Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen in Spring Training, and Trembley said it's imperative that Baltimore seeks safety in numbers.

"One of the things that I've learned in the last year and a half is we really need our starters to go longer," he said. "Otherwise, it just definitely takes its toll -- especially late in the season -- on your bullpen. Those guys get so overworked.

"One of our goals is to get five guys that can give us innings and maybe cut down on the number of appearances for guys coming out of the bullpen. And for our fourth or fifth starter, you've probably got about seven or eight guys competing for that job."

The Orioles have been linked to domestic free agents Tim Redding and Braden Looper in addition to Japanese import Kenshin Kawakami, and they will likely continue to shop the open market for potential starters. The main goal, however, is to find a new starting first baseman and a veteran catcher to help tutor top prospect Matt Wieters throughout the season.

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The Orioles may elect to re-sign incumbent first baseman Kevin Millar at some point late in the winter, but they're more likely to make a run at Ty Wigginton, who was non-tendered by the Astros in December. Baltimore is also reportedly weighing both Gregg Zaun and Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate, and Trembley thinks the search could take even longer than usual.

"I don't think we're done yet -- I think, hopefully, before Spring Training we'll address that," he said. "The order of business is to take care of the catching situation and then the first-base situation. To be honest with you, I think this thing is going to go late into the winter. With the economics of what's happened in baseball and the everyday world, there's still 150 guys out there."

Trembley did allow, however, that he's looking for a certain kind of player. Trembley referenced Ryan Freel, whom the Orioles acquired in a trade for Ramon Hernandez earlier this winter, as the prototype personality that he'd like to manage. In other words, Baltimore is looking to add self-motivated players who will run through walls regardless of where the team sits in the standings.

"We need some high-energy guys and we need some versatile guys," Trembley said. "Our record in day games after night games is dismal, and the September swoon is for a lot of reasons. I think the pitchers run out of gas, especially the bullpen, because it's been used so much. But I also think we need some real high-energy guys for late in the season. I've known Wigginton for a long time. He was in Triple-A when I was there, and he's got some pop and he's like Freel in that he's a blue-collar guy."

The Orioles have scheduled a few intrasquad games for Spring Training, and Trembley expects to use every available opportunity to evaluate the arms on his pitching staff. He said that Aubrey Huff would be his everyday first baseman if the season started today, and he also said that there are a few different ways he can go about assembling his batting order.

"I think it's flexible -- I'd like to get some protection at the bottom of the lineup," Trembley said. "I think you could hit Freel between [second baseman Brian] Roberts and [right fielder Nick] Markakis, but I also think he can give you something at the bottom of the lineup. He's almost like a second leadoff guy. [Shortstop Cesar] Izturis can be that kind of guy, too, because he's a switch-hitter and because of the way he handles the bat. We'll have to play around with it."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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