When the spring training season opened up, I thought that if anyone had the edge on the fifth starter spot, it was going to be Zach Britton. He would make a second lefty in the rotation in addition to Wei-Yin Chen, had taken his lumps at the MLB level previously, and maybe was ready to step forward and make an impact. Then, spring training started, Britton did not look sharp, and now he's been optioned to Norfolk.
Jonathan Schoop and Yamaico Navarro were also optioned to Norfolk and Daniel McCutchen, a non-roster invitee, was re-assigned to minor league camp. The four moves leave the Orioles with 40 players in camp, including 11 non-roster invitees.
Spring training statistics don't matter, but you can't help but look at a 6.10 ERA and wince. Sure, it was only over 10.1 IP, but that makes you think that something isn't right. Britton seems to agree. He told reporters that "mentally I don't think I was feeling like I was ready to be with the team and I'm sure they saw that." Indeed, Zach, there is no hiding something like that. Concealed within the Warehouse, the Duq of Baltimore sees all. His gaze pierces shadow, cloud, earth and flesh. You know of what I speak.
Specifically, Britton said, he needs to work on his sinker. What is a sinkerball pitcher with an inconsistent sinker? A guy who gets optioned to the minor leagues, is what. He also told reporters that his arm slot was off on the sinker. Don't take too long fixing that, Zach. You might have heard of a few guys who will be trying to charge up ahead of you on the depth chart.
With Britton being optioned, the survivors of the fifth-starter competition are Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, T.J. McFarland, Steve Johnson, and Jair Jurrjens. It seems like Jurrjens, who has an option remaining and a June 15 opt-out clause, is destined to soon be optioned to Norfolk as well. McFarland does not sound like the kind of Rule 5 draft pick who is going to stick with the club - though neither did Ryan Flaherty last year. As for the rest, your guess is as good as mine.
Either Matusz or McFarland would make the second lefty in the rotation, if the O's care about that sort of thing. But if the Orioles believe Arrieta or Johnson will be the best pitcher to help the team win, then they'll break camp in the rotation. They've got a little more than a week to make up their minds.