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Who will fill out the Orioles rotation?

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After Bundy, Cashner and Cobb, the rotation is a looming question mark in Baltimore. Several players will have an opportunity to take the ball every fifth day.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Out of the six Orioles pitchers that made more than 10 starts in 2018, the player with the lowest earned run average is now an Atlanta Brave. But on the bright side, Gausman only “led” those pitchers with a 4.43 ERA. None of the team’s starters set the bar particularly high last season, and every Bird in Baltimore will be looking to improve on their performance from a year ago.

Three of those starters, barring an injury or a trade, will be in the opening day rotation. Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner will all be back in Black and Orange attempting to live up to their potential.

After a disastrous first half, Cobb settled in with a 2.56 ERA in 11 second-half starts. The Orioles will look for Cobb to provide some stability to a young and incomplete staff.

Bundy saw his ERA climb to a career high 5.45 with an 8-16 record. The righty led the league with 41 home runs allowed, and keeping the ball in the ball park must be a priority moving forward. Cashner is in the second year of a two-year deal. After pitching to a 4-15 record with a 5.29 ERA, the Orioles expect more from the Texas native.

Earned run average and win/loss record may no longer carry the same weight as they did in years past, but you don’t need Mike Elias’s advanced analytics to know that these numbers just aren’t going to cut it.

Whether or not these three can pitch well in 2019 is up for debate, but an even bigger question is who will fill out the rotation?

David Hess and Yefry Ramirez were the other pitchers to notch double digit starts last season. Neither performed strongly enough to guarantee a rotation spot moving forward, and the pair join a list of potential starters/swing men that will have an opportunity this year.

First of all, the Orioles could always sign one or more starting pitchers to balance out the staff. While Baltimore is not expected to make a big splash in free agency, signing a veteran arm or two to a short contract certainly makes sense.

By adding another starter, the Orioles allow time for young pitchers to refine their game, instead of facing the powerful lineups in the AL East. Baltimore could always flip that starter at the deadline for a prospect or two depending on performance.

Does experience provide Hess and Ramirez an edge moving forward? Not necessarily. With Elias, and whoever turns out to be the new manager calling the shots, it doesn’t mean much that Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette thought they were the best men for the job. Still, there’s more tape on Hess and Ramirez, which could lead to key adjustments for the young hurlers.

Jimmy Yacabonis made seven starts and five relief appearances a year ago for the Orioles. It’s difficult to judge a guy when he’s asked to bounce back and forth between Norfolk and Baltimore, but it’s hard to imagine Yacabonis into the rotation without an extremely impressive spring training.

Will this be the year the Orioles commit to transforming Miguel Castro into a starter? He’s made just one start in each of the last two seasons, but there’s been chatter after his strong relief campaign in 2017.

Castro pitched well for the majority of last season, but had a disastrous month of August. In 11 games, he allowed 13 earned runs in only 12 innings. He put up a whopping 2.00 WHIP and had an ERA of 9.75 for the month. However, Castro ended the season on a high note by allowing just three earned runs in nine September appearances.

If the Orioles plan to stretch Castro out, they need to do it from the jump. Castro should work as a starter in spring training, and have the opportunity to start games at the Major League level. With the Orioles expected to be far from playoff contention this coming year, developing a starter is much more valuable than having a clutch middle reliever.

Will the team give Mike Wright another shot at starting? Probably not. At least we don’t have to worry about Chris Tillman.

There are several young guys that could emerge by the end of the year. Luis Ortiz couldn’t make it out of the second inning in his only start last year, but I think the Orioles might give the 23-year old another chance. Dillon Tate was added to the 40-man roster, and Josh Rogers won the first of his three starts last year. Chris Lee is still down on the farm, and Keegan Akin impressed at Bowie last year.

The pitchers chosen to fill out the rotation at the beginning of the year may not be there at the season’s end. Veterans could be traded, and guys like Hess and Ramirez may exhaust their opportunities. Still, there could be a gem or two hidden in this crop. Someone has to take the ball every fifth day, and there will certainly be an opportunity to do so for these guys in Baltimore.