Unfortunately for Orioles fans, worst nightmares have officially come true. With Kevin Gausman's tendinitis issue returning, there's legitimate concern regarding the projected makeup of the rotation in the first several weeks of the season. Names like Mike Wright's continue to be thrown around as potential alternatives, but a deeper look needs to be taken into this not-so-simple situation.
As much as it may hurt to hear, Gausman's outlook might not be as optimistic as it has been painted. Orioles fans know plenty about lingering arm injuries, some that have devastated careers and effectively ended all hope for a few promising young arms.
Obviously, we can't go to the worst case scenario after a seemingly minor hiccup. It'd be irresponsible and - to be frank - just a real bummer. But we'd be careless if we didn't consider the possibility of Gausman hitting the DL for an extended period of time and a young arm filling in for more than one or two starts.
After his past two starts, a legitimate argument can be made for Mike Wright. Though it's been a bit of a bumpy road, his current chances to begin the season as the penciled-in fifth starter are quickly rising.
Obviously, there's no place in this conversation for overwhelmingly positive projections. With what we've seen from 2015 and this spring, it's likely that Wright's highest ceiling is a fourth starter who hovers around league average. That's nothing against Wright, it's just who he is.
He's not entering the rotation to save the team from disaster or even be the brightest story in the division. Very simply, he's a legitimate option to fill a place with decent numbers at the back end of the rotation. Compared to the options available overall, that's more than enough to ask for.
Over the course of his last two spring starts, Wright has shown that current expectations fall perfectly in line with what he'll likely be in 2016.
Some outings - like his March 17th five inning shutout - will lead to wins and legitimate momentum. Others - like yesterday's rocky but resilient start - will be less than perfect. It's the reality that exists with Wright, but it's also one that can be managed if needed. With a potentially lethal Orioles lineup, Buck Showalter can afford to take a chance with Wright to open the season.
Mike Wright: 4 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts, HR, WP #orioles— Roch Kubatko (@masnRoch) March 22, 2016
Though it's less than ideal, you could look the bright side with Wright and his overall outlook. It's likely that he'll have to see time during 2016 anyway, and with the carousel constantly spinning, the rotation will need him at one point or another. For him, starting the season with a chance to pick up some momentum would be significant.
But for the Orioles, does it make sense to have Wright make the starts instead of other contenders for the position? After all, he isn't locked in just yet.
For instance, there's Tyler Wilson. He's shown superb command in his small sample size (9.1 IP, 0 BB) and is allowing hits at the same rate as Wright. You could argue that the team has more confidence in Wilson as a big-picture pitcher, but more comfortable with Wright as a starter based on the workload he's been given overall.
With Wilson, you could also argue that there's slightly more upside. He's the same age as Wright, but performed consistently well in 2015 and showed off better numbers in a slightly smaller sample size. Add to that the fact that Wilson's flaws haven't been massively exploited at the big-league level yet and you can conclude that the Orioles might want to give him a shot when the season starts.
It may be a coin flip between the two 26-year-olds, possibly leaving Showalter's personal preference to be the deciding factor. But with a sensational season starting in Norfolk in 2015 (9-1, 1.04 WHIP), a better fastball and more experience starting in the regular season, and this spring, things seem to be adding up in Wright's favor.
Should he get the call, he'll need to clean up a few important numbers. His fly ball rate (42.9%) was way too high in 2015, leading to far too many home runs hit. We'll have to assume that filling in for Gausman would make him the early top option if another injury calls, so he'll have to keep the ground balls rolling at hitter-friendly Camden Yards to stick with the Birds.
Walks are another key area of importance, especially for a young arm trying to earn a consistent spot in a rotation. No matter what happens over the course of the season, there's little room for error in the walk column. Especially for a prospect on the outside looking in, a 3.63 BB/9 ratio like the one posted in 2015 won't fly.
If there's one thing that will doom the O's pitching staff any more than it already is, it's an increased number in the free bases column.
Overall, it might just be Wright's job to lose. Then again, maybe Gausman stays healthy and he'll have to wait until another injury pops up to make a start. Either way, there are plenty of pros and cons to his potential spot in the rotation, no matter which way you choose to spin it.
There's a good chance you'll see Wright locking down a spot in the rotation at some point in 2016, like it or not. For the Orioles, it might be time to simply take a "glass half full" approach and watch the right-hander's journey play out in important early-season starts.