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O's lacking true cleanup hitter

O's lacking true cleanup hitter

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Who is the cleanup hitter?
The Orioles still don't have a true cleanup hitter and may wind up rotating several players through the slot this season. Adam Jones may be the best fit, and his right-handed power bat would allow Baltimore to slot Nick Markakis third and Matt Wieters fifth. Nolan Reimold and Miguel Tejada may also see action hitting fourth, depending on the day's particular matchup.

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Jones did most of his damage hitting second last year, and he hit cleanup in just one game. But with patient hitters like Markakis and Wieters around him, Jones would have the best chance to put up big numbers. Manager Dave Trembley will use Spring Training to plot out his best batting order, but he won't be afraid to switch gears if things stall in the regular season.

2. Are Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman ready?
Both Matusz and Tillman will be among the league's youngest starting pitchers, and the Orioles are hinging a big part of their future on the pair maturing into an imposing tandem. Matusz made just eight starts at Double-A Bowie before making his big league debut, though, and Tillman allowed 15 home runs in 65 innings at the big league level last season.

The Orioles expect both of them to start the season in the rotation, though, and expect them both to mature on the job. Matusz and Tillman will likely go through some growing pains, but the potential for a breakthrough exists for both of them. Matusz, the fourth overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, may even line up as an early favorite for the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

3. How will the Orioles use Koji Uehara?
Uehara had an injury-plagued season with the Orioles last season and appears to be slated for a bullpen job. The former starter could probably be used in a variety of ways, though, from multi-inning bridge reliever to late-inning setup man. Uehara served as closer for one season in Japan, and most teams saw him as a reliever when he elected to come to the Major Leagues.

Baltimore let him start, though, and he broke down with injuries to his hamstring and pitching elbow. Now, the Orioles have to decide whether Uehara would be best served by pitching once a week for multiple innings or multiple times in shorter stints. They'll have to get a feel for that in Spring Training, and Uehara is a true X factor in the team's bullpen.

2009 record
64-98, fifth place in the AL East

Projected batting order
1. 2B Brian Roberts:
  .283 BA, .356 OBP, .451 SLG, 16 HR, 79 RBI in 2009
2. LF Nolan Reimold:
  .279 BA, .365 OBP, .466 SLG, 15 HR, 45 RBI in 2009
3. RF Nick Markakis:
  .293 BA, .347 OBP, .453 SLG, 18 HR, 101 RBI in 2009
4. CF Adam Jones:
  .277 BA, .335 OBP, .457 SLG, 19 HR, 70 RBI in 2009
5. C Matt Wieters:
  .288 BA, .340 OBP, .412 SLG, 9 HR, 43 RBI in 2009
6. SS Miguel Tejada:
  .313 BA, .340 OBP, .455 SLG, 14 HR, 86 RBI in 2009
7. DH Luke Scott:
  .258 BA, .340 OBP, .488 SLG, 25 HR, 77 RBI in 2009
8. 1B Garrett Atkins:
  .226 BA, .308 OBP, .342 SLG, 9 HR, 48 RBI in 2009
9. SS Cesar Izturis:
  .256 BA, .294 OBP, .328 SLG, 2 HR, 30 RBI in 2009

Projected rotation
1. Kevin Millwood, 13-10, 3.67 ERA in 2009
2. Jeremy Guthrie, 10-17, 5.04 ERA in 2009
3. Brian Matusz, 5-2, 4.63 ERA in 2009
4. Brad Bergesen, 7-5, 3.43 ERA in 2009
5. Chris Tillman, 2-5, 5.40 ERA in 2009

Projected bullpen
Closer: Michael Gonzalez, 10 saves, 2.42 ERA in 2009
RH setup man: Jim Johnson, 4.11 ERA in 2009

The new guys
1B Garrett Atkins: Atkins has slid downhill since his 2006 breakout, watching his numbers decline across the board over the past three seasons. Baltimore is moving him across the diamond to first base and hoping that a change of scenery will wake up his bat. Atkins, who used to call Coors Field home, will be entering another offensive haven at Camden Yards.

3B Miguel Tejada: Tejada, who was traded to Houston before the 2008 season, returns to Baltimore on the heels of back-to-back All-Star berths. The former shortstop has been dealing with reduced range and a slowing bat in recent seasons, but he is excited to be an Oriole again. Tejada should fit in at third base and somewhere in the middle of the batting order.

RHP Kevin Millwood: The Orioles acquired Millwood to be the veteran bellwether of the staff, a role he'll share with incumbent Jeremy Guthrie. Millwood played much the same position last year in Texas. The right-hander will bring a wealth of experience to Baltimore, and he'll likely slot in as the Orioles' Opening Day starter and de facto staff ace.

CL Michael Gonzalez: Gonzalez comes to Baltimore to assume the full-time closer's role, a position that previously held for Pittsburgh in 2006. The southpaw spent last season splitting save opportunities with Rafael Soriano in Atlanta, and he's racked up one of the league's highest strikeout rates. Now, he'll have to do it in the AL.

Prospects to watch
3B Josh Bell: Bell, who was acquired from the Dodgers in exchange for George Sherrill last season, is the next big thing for the Orioles. The switch-hitter had a monster season at Double-A last year and will likely spend most of this year at Triple-A Norfolk. Tejada won't be an obstacle, and the Orioles will call up Bell whenever they think he's ready to help the parent club.

1B Brandon Snyder: Snyder, a former first-round draftee, had a monster season for Bowie last season but saw his bat stall when he reached Norfolk. Now, he'll get a chance to repeat the level and prove that he's ready for the Majors. Snyder should be ready by August, and if he has a decent season, he should have a shot at claiming the starting job in 2011.

RHP Jake Arrieta: Arrieta hasn't moved quite as fast as Matusz and Tillman, but he's poised to crack the rotation whenever there's a vacancy. For now, though, he appears to be boxed out by Bergesen, Tillman and Matusz.

LHP Zach Britton: Britton, who boasts one of the best sinkers in the Minor Leagues, added some velocity to his fastball last season. Britton dominated hitters in the Class A Carolina League, and now he'll try to do it again at Double-A. Britton will be watched carefully, but Baltimore's depth in arms allows the team to let him take his development slowly and surely.

On the rebound
Bergesen: He was one of the team's biggest surprises last season, but his year ended when he was struck in the left shin by a comebacker through the box. The right-hander has spent most of his winter recovering from the injury, which kept him off the mound into late January. Now, Bergesen is ready to see if he can thrive in his second tour around the league.

Reimold: He had a huge season and was on the fringe of the Rookie of the Year Award balloting when the Orioles opted to shut him down due a to an Achilles tendon injury. Reimold had surgery and should report to Spring Training healthy. Reimold will split time in left field with Felix Pie and may also see time at designated hitter to make sure he stays healthy.

Jones: The outfielder broke out with an All-Star season, but he also broke down and spent September on the disabled list for the second consecutive season. Jones, a former shortstop, may just be scratching the surface of his talents, teaming with Markakis to give the Orioles one of the most exciting young outfields in baseball.

LF Felix Pie: Pie had a really mercurial season and was just beginning to establish himself when he went down with a strained quadriceps in September. That injury kept him from playing winter ball. The Orioles aren't quite sure what they have in Pie, but they hope to see him turn his substantial talent into on-field production in 2010 and beyond.

Long gone
3B Mevin Mora: The longest-tenured Oriole leaves after a 10-year stint in Baltimore. The two-time All-Star arrived as a utility man and left having played more games at third base for the Orioles than anyone except Brooks Robinson. Mora landed with Colorado, where he may be expected to reprise his utility duties.

RHP Danys Baez: Baez demonstrated that he was healthy in 2009 after a season lost to rehabilitate an elbow injury, and he signed a two-year contract with the Phillies to help out in their bullpen. Baez gave the Orioles one solid season, one mediocre season and one year lost to injury for the lucrative contract he signed before the 2007 season.

RHP Chris Ray: The righty had a difficult season in his return from rehabbing his elbow, and the Orioles traded him to Texas in the deal that brought Millwood to Baltimore. The former closer will now have a fresh start in re-establishing himself, but he'll have to pitch in one of the league's most oppressive offensive environments.

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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{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }