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Help Wanted: Orioles still seeking fifth starter

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Many have called for Chris Tillman to be replaced. But similar to Mike Wright, the Orioles may be out of options.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Tillman has not pitched well in 2018. He did not pitch well in 2017. The Orioles cannot keep sending him out there every fifth day.

It’s an easy case to make. Our own George Battersby broke it down, and made some wonderful points on Tuesday. It’s very possible that the Orioles feel the same way about Tillman, but they simply do not have a better option.

First things first, the Orioles are not done with Chris Tillman. At least not yet. They’ve listed him as the probable starter for Saturday’s game against Cleveland. He’ll have a few days of extra rest, and will be pitching again with the notion that it could be his “last chance” to prove himself.

I may be a new contributor to Camden Chat, but I’ve been a reader long enough to know that optimism doesn’t exactly run rampant around these parts. Let’s go out on a limb and say that Tillman fails to throw a no hitter this weekend. Even if he pitches well, there’s really no reason to think that it could last. So after delaying the inevitable, what do the Orioles do?

Mike Wright started two games for Baltimore. He made it out of the first inning once. However, he did provide the Orioles a chance to win with five innings and three earned runs against the Astros back on April 3. Are those numbers inspiring? Absolutely not. But serviceable stats would be an improvement for the fifth arm in the rotation. Wright last pitched on April 13 when he allowed two hits and one run in 2.2 innings. The relief appearance came after Tillman allowed six runs in the first two innings at Boston.

Wright is out of options. He has a similar vibe to Tillman, except without the past success. Both entered the year on a short leash, and neither has impressed. If Tillman has another shot to prove himself, why not give Wright one as well?

Wright’s old pal Tyler Wilson is pitching in Korea. Swingman T.J. McFarland is in Arizona and has thrown well in relief. The Brewers recently claimed Alec Asher from the Dodgers. But let’s focus on the arms the Orioles have.

Gabriel Ynoa is on the 10-day DL with a lower leg issue, and a recent MRI revealed inflammation in his right rotator cuff as well. Ynoa will likely get a shot once he’s healthy, but when that will be has become less clear. Even if the righty regains his health, he’d likely need some time to build his arm back up in the minors.

Speaking of the farm, Norfolk’s rotation has left a lot to be desired. Jayson Aquino is 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA. In two starts, the lefty has more walks (five) than strikeouts (four). Aquino’s name was thrown around at times last year as a potential starter, and the 25-year-old pitched in four games for Baltimore. He allowed 11 earned runs in 13.1 innings. Not great.

Yefry Ramirez popped up for a cup of coffee with the Orioles this year. Ramirez rode the shuttle April 10-11 without ever making an appearance. The righty is the Orioles’ 19th ranked prospect by MLB.com, and has pitched well in Norfolk. The 24-year-old allowed only two runs in two starts this year.

Ramirez came over from the Yankees at the trade deadline last year in exchange for international bonus money. He finished 15-3 with a 3.47 ERA in 124.1 innings pitched in Double-A. Ramirez may turn out to be a quality major league pitcher some day, but he’s barely spent any time at Triple-A.

Ramirez’s teammate and fellow shuttle rider David Hess could also have his name called at some point. Hess was called up this week, only to be returned without throwing a pitch for the Orioles. After a few days in limbo, Hess pitched four shutout innings last night for the Tides. He allowed only three hits and struck out five in the start. Hess threw five innings of one-run ball in his only other start at Norfolk. The Orioles’ 18th ranked prospect finished 11-9 with a 3.85 ERA in 154.1 innings for the Tides in 2017. Hess has more experience at the Triple-A level, which could give him a leg up over Ramirez.

Despite Hunter Harvey making a cameo appearance for the Orioles, there is no way the 23-year-old is ready to throw significant innings at the major league level. After missing nearly three years due to elbow issues that concluded with Tommy John surgery, the Orioles’ fourth-ranked prospect is finally healthy. Ideally, Harvey will continue to develop in the minors and not be forced into an early starting or relief role in Baltimore.

The Orioles briefly appeased a pessimistic fan base with the signings of Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner this past offseason. Still, they entered the season with only four quality starting pitchers. As it turns out, that’s not a great game plan. I know, it’s hard to believe.

Tillman and Wright will have the opportunity to make this issue go away, and maybe the Orioles will catch a break. Sitting at 5-12 on the season, they sure could use one. If not, Hess and Ramirez should have an opportunity to showcase their talents this year.