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Questions remain for O's in homestretch

Questions remain for O's in homestretch

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The questions that surrounded Orioles camp all spring aren't any closer to being answered in the final week of Grapefruit League games. Instead, manager Dave Trembley said Sunday the team will take the final 10 days before Opening Day on April 6 to evaluate several positions battles and whittle down to a 25-man roster.

"It's a good thing, because we have so many guys to choose from," Trembley said regarding the unusual amount of uncertainty remaining in O's camp. "In the past, we haven't had that many guys to choose from. It was addition by subtraction. Guys were just on the club -- it wasn't any decisions that we made. It was more of an inventory."

With 37 players still in camp, the Orioles have yet to decide on their fifth starter, backup catcher and at least three bullpen spots. The health of converted starter Koji Uehara, who suffered a left hamstring strain on March 18, could throw a wrench into the 'pen's plans, and similarly, the health of Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold would do the same to the team's middle infield and left field/designated hitter roles.

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Only the utility infielder spot appears to be decided, given that Robert Andino is the only backup player for shortstop Cesar Izturis.

"I think that's the No. 1 criteria for the utility spot," Trembley said. "You need to make sure the guy can play shortstop for Izturis."

Andino was slated to start Sunday's game in Dunedin at shortstop before it was canceled due to inclement weather. He is the only player left in camp who has played the position at the Major League level, and Trembley ruled out the possibility of Justin Turner at shortstop, saying that he wasn't comfortable with asking Turner to try a new position this spring.

The fifth-starter competition has heated up in recent weeks, with both Trembley and president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail going on record to say no decision has been reached. Although speculation early in camp was that Chris Tillman was the front runner to win the job, the team's grueling opening schedule -- which includes 16 straight games -- puts a premium on having strong middle relief. Tillman will not be considered as a long guy out of the 'pen, while the other two candidates for the fifth spot -- Jason Berken and David Hernandez -- could be asked to fill that role.

If Uehara starts the season on the disabled list, it would open up an extra bullpen slot, perhaps for a guy like Berken, who has pitched predominantly out of the 'pen. Berken tossed four scoreless innings in relief of Tillman in his most recent outing Friday, and could give the Orioles a second long-inning man to go along with Mark Hendrickson.

"I think it would be something to wisely consider," Trembley said of having another middle reliever to start the season. "Because what you want to avoid, if you possibly can, is having so many one-inning guys, especially early in the season when there is not any days off. I don't think you want it to fall on any just one guy. If [Mark] Hendrickson comes out of the bullpen and throws three innings, he is probably done. If he throws 50 pitches, he is probably done for a couple days. Now what are you going to do? There hasn't been any talk to go to 13 pitchers."

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Trembley said he would also consider using Matt Albers in a long-relief situation, but even if Uehara is healthy he will try to stay away from asking the Japanese right-hander to throw more than one inning.

Uehara has been limited since suffering his most recent hamstring injury and has made little progression toward getting back on the mound. With Spring Training in its final week, he will have to get back on the hill and assume a normal schedule or risk starting the season on the disabled list.

"You can't go the whole week and the week previous and then not play, and then you are going to get active? We're not going to do that," Trembley said.

The Orioles manager will also use spring's final week to evaluate how game-ready Reimold and Roberts are. Reimold has been slowed this spring by offseason surgery on his left Achilles tendon but has made significant strides in the last week. The 26-year-old snapped a 0-for-22 skid on March 21 and appears to be running better in the field and along the bases. Reimold has hit safely in his past four games, and Trembley said he has spoken to the outfielder about proving that he can play back-to-back games and do things like steal a base to show he is Opening Day-ready.

Expected to be Baltimore's starting left fielder as part of a platoon with Felix Pie, there is a slight chance Reimold could open the season on the disabled list. But it's more likely that the team will use Pie in left and rely heavily on a platoon scenario -- in conjunction with the DH role -- until Reimold proves he is fully healthy.

"I could do that," Trembley said of the platoon scenario, which would likely make Pie the team's Opening Day left fielder. "I'm not saying he is, but he could be. I'm not ready to give you my lineup."

But the Orioles are hoping Brian Roberts will be ready in time to be in it. Roberts was scheduled to make his second spring start at second base on Sunday, and Trembley said the original plan was for the second baseman to play back-to-back games Sunday afternoon and Monday night. With Sunday's rainout, Roberts will now start Monday night's game, with Tuesday afternoon's contest a "possibility."

Roberts has been slowed by a herniated disc in his lower back suffered during offseason workouts in Arizona, and the team in hoping to get their leadoff hitter 25-30 spring at-bats in time for Opening Day.

Brittany Ghiroli 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" ] }