Will the Orioles make Zach Britton a starter? It only seems fair given how well he's performed and how the rotation has struggled.
-- Tim B., Norfolk, Va.
It's an enticing thought and a question I've received countless times already this season, which is a testament to how great Britton has been. The 26-year-old hasn't allowed a run in 11 1/3 innings, and he looks like a completely different pitcher out of the bullpen. That's why I'd be hesitant to move him, and it's why the Orioles believe Britton has more value in relief, giving the club some great innings in close games.
Britton's three innings were the highlight of Wednesday's 3-0 win over the Rays, and he was publicly a candidate for a starting spot this spring. But he never made a start longer than two innings, and the O's never planned on him being part of the rotation out of camp, barring an injury.
I think that case still exists here, and the preference is to leave Britton in the bullpen, where he's a serious weapon as a lefty who can get right-handers out and potentially be a late-inning force. Britton and Brian Matusz are two huge threats for the opposition, and I think they'd be hesitant to put Britton back in the rotation. Britton is throwing harder and is more confident out of the 'pen, and that success doesn't automatically translate in a starting role. Unless there's an injury and no other viable candidates, which could happen, I'd expect Britton to stay in relief for the time being.
I thought the addition of Steve Lombardozzi was a fantastic grab, and he's proven his worth early on in the season. Has he made Ryan Flaherty expendable as the primary utility role player once Manny Machado returns?
-- Paul O., Woodbridge, Va.
Lombardozzi has been impressive, I agree. But when Machado returns, I don't think it will change things for Flaherty as much as it will for Jonathan Schoop, who would likely be the odd man out. Either Lombardozzi or Flaherty will start at second base on any given night, and the other player will be the utility man off the bench. Both have shown some exceptional defensive skills and versatility to give manager Buck Showalter options late in a game.
What's the timetable on Machado? When will he rejoin the team?
-- Scott S., Columbia, Md.
Machado ran the bases on Wednesday in Sarasota, Fla., which was his last step, and he's working to play in a couple of extended spring games, which could happen when the team is on the road. Showalter hinted that Machado's rehab assignment won't be as long as the 20 days dictates, barring a setback, because Machado has been hitting and fielding since Spring Training. The key is to have the 21-year-old adjust to the game pace, and my guess is he could be an early May addition.
If the Orioles are in contention in August, do you see Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy playing an everyday role, or is 2015 the true goal for both of them?
-- Bernie B., Largo, Md.
First, Gausman and Bundy have to get into a position to help the team before you can pencil them in as a second-half boost. Gausman, who was sick earlier in the season, didn't last four innings in his last Triple-A start, as Showalter said Gausman reportedly dealt with a blister that developed on his right hand. Obviously, Gausman is well thought of in the organization, but he'll need to string together some successful outings at Triple-A Norfolk before the Orioles consider a callup. And that will also depend on the needs of the big league club.
Bundy is in a little different situation since he's rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He has started to spin the ball, which is a big step in his progression, and he will incorporate his breaking ball shortly in his bullpen sessions. But the right-hander will have to, even more so than Gausman, prove he can help the O's, as Bundy has just 1 2/3 Major League innings under his belt.
A guy who could be a viable option sooner than Bundy and Gausman? It's Johan Santana, who continues to throw live batting practice, and he's considered ahead of Bundy's projected timeline right now. Whether the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner can return to form is yet to be seen, but Santana is certainly worth keeping an eye on.
It seems Showalter isn't using Darren O'Day as his go-to setup man. I know there haven't been a ton of opportunities, but Evan Meek and Ryan Webb seem to be getting those chances before him. Has O'Day been demoted?
-- Rusty, McLean, Va.
Not at all. If you look at O'Day's game logs by innings, it reads like this: 8, 8, 9, 10 and 9. So it's not like the righty is pitching any earlier in games. I think it's partially a product of Showalter wanting to see what he has in new pitchers Meek and Webb and him trying to determine how his bullpen could -- in a perfect world -- slot as a bridge to closer Tommy Hunter.
Showalter is also trying to determine who can pick up the ninth if Hunter is unavailable. O'Day is and will continue to be a late-inning option for the Orioles, and the club is hopeful that some of the things he worked on this spring -- namely defending himself against right-handed hitters -- will help give Showalter more flexibility in terms of when to use him. So far, O'Day has thrown five scoreless innings, which doesn't seem like he's been demoted to me.