No. 5 Starter Watch: Orioles (and Pie!)

Via Peter Schmuck, some updates about my favorite forgotten outfielder (Felix Pie) and my favorite late-March subject (fifth starters):

    Miguel Tejada will start the season as the primary cleanup hitter, Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie could share left-field duties initially, and [David] Hernandez has almost surely taken away the fifth-rotation spot from [Chris] Tillman, who looks to be headed to Triple-A Norfolk.


    Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz and Brad Bergesen are lined up to be the first four starters, and Trembley isn't revealing the No. 5.

    However, he said he is "probably moving closer to making that decision" and given that David Hernandez again pitched superbly Saturday (five scoreless innings) while Chris Tillman struggled with his command Friday (two runs, four walks in 4 1/3 innings), Hernandez looks to be the favorite.

    Trembley reiterated Sunday that the 21-year-old Tillman would be sent to the minors if he doesn't win the fifth-starter battle.

    "It's a very interesting and complex issue really," Trembley said. "You've got to look at all the situations and, to be honest with you, the situation with (the health of) Koji kind of throws a wrench into it a little bit."

Tillman and Hernandez both pitched for the Orioles last year -- 12 starts for Tillman, 19 for Hernandez -- and both spit the bit, performance-wise. This came after both had dominated Triple-A hitters earlier in the season. Tillman's strikeout-to-walk ratio dropped from 3.81 to 1.63; Hernandez's from 4.39 to 1.48 (Hernandez had struck out 12.4 per nine innings in his 11 starts with Norfolk).

They weren't just foolin' 'em down there, either; both guys throw in the low 90s without breaking much of a sweat. A year ago, Tillman was considered the Orioles' No. 2 prospect (behind this guy with Hernandez just another Grade B prospect). But that sort of changed last year, even if Tillman's upside -- mostly because he's three years younger -- is still considered higher than Hernandez's.

Every team would be thrilled to have both of them, and it's far from clear who should open the season in the big club's rotation. But considering the similarities in their performance last season, and considering that Tillman doesn't turn 22 until a couple of weeks into the season, I'd probably give the job to Hernandez.

Ultimately -- as we've mentioned any number of times -- it probably won't matter much. As with most non-contending teams, the rotation probably won't look the same in June as it did in April. If Hernandez and Tillman can both pitch, they'll get their shots. And if they (or someone else) can't, the Orioles have yet another excellent prospect right behind them. The Orioles have done a truly fantastic job of stockpiling young starting pitchers, and with luck they're about to get real interesting.