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Which Baltimore starter will have the shortest leash in 2023?

The Orioles appear to have five favorites for the rotation this season. Which starter would be the first to go if DL Hall or Tyler Wells comes calling for a spot?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles bolstered their rotation by adding two starting pitchers with plenty of major league experience over the winter. Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin have their flaws, but both have a proven track record of getting outs at the big league level.

Gibson and Irvin have been considered locks for the rotation since they arrived in Baltimore. The Orioles possess several starting pitchers worthy of consideration, but almost everyone with an opinion has circled Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer and Grayson Rodriguez to round out the rotation.

Baltimore appears to be getting its birds in a row to start the season but has yet to announce an Opening Day starter. Baltimore surprised everyone when it optioned presumed starter Keegan Akin back in 2021, so nothing can be written in ink quite yet.

The Orioles currently boast their best pitching depth in recent memory. Tyler Wells and Austin Voth both shined at times last year, and DL Hall possesses blue-chip stuff. All three pitchers could spend time in the rotation this season but Baltimore has yet to define roles for the trio.

Mike Elias made the most significant pitching announcement this spring when he revealed Hall could not build up enough innings to begin the year in the rotation. The news eliminated a candidate from the competition but did not clarify whether Hall would start the season in Baltimore’s bullpen or Triple-A Norfolk’s rotation.

Voth has struggled this spring but remains out of minor league options. He would have needed a dominant Sarasota campaign to steal a rotation spot but immediately profiles as the most likely long reliever.

Wells may represent the most intriguing dilemma of any player. The Orioles took the time to convert the rule-fiver from a reliever to a starter last season, and he appeared on track to begin the year in the rotation prior to the Irvin deal. Wells could work out of the bullpen, but would the Orioles really yo-yo him again?

MASN’s Roch Kubatko wondered aloud during yesterday’s broadcast whether Baltimore would send Wells to Norfolk’s rotation. He said Wells likely possesses too much talent to leave off the roster, but did note the work the Orioles put in to make him a starter.

Kubatko also noted that the Orioles do not seem keen on a piggyback scenario. Baltimore believes the cost of losing a reliever every other night would be too high. The dream of a Rodriguez and Hall pairing appears to be dead.

Baltimore would only send Hall or Wells to Norfolk if they truly intend to use them as a starter this year. If the best case scenario occurs (the player at Norfolk pitches well), who would the Orioles bump from the rotation?

Again, Gibson and Irvin appear the safest due to the innings under their belt. A successful track record indicates that either arm could right the ship if they struggle early in the season. The pair would need to flounder for an extended period of time before getting the boot.

Brandon Hyde has praised Irvin throughout camp as a “strike thrower” who should benefit from the impressive infield set behind him. Irvin allowed home runs in 16 of 25 starts last season and allowed multiple homers seven times.

The lefty will take his lumps at times this year, but should receive the benefit of the doubt if he continues to pound the zone and work deep into games. Irvin completed at least six innings in 19 of his 30 starts last season despite only exceeding 100 pitches twice.

The 35-year-old Gibson could easily receive preferential “veteran leader” treatment. Jordan Lyles set the bar last year, and Gibson has the talent to match or exceed his performance with a 2021 All-Star appearance under his belt.

Dean Kremer and Kyle Bradish both have options remaining. Bradish appears to hold more upside, but Kremer put together 21 consistent starts last season. Both looked sharp this spring before Bradish took a shellacking from the Phillies earlier this week.

Both starters could have a short leash, but neither will enter 2023 with a pitch count. Baltimore will certainly impose some type of work limit on Rodriguez. The rookie is bound to struggle at some point, and Baltimore could use the opportunity to skip a few starts and limit innings. Rodriguez could easily serve a stint on the injured list for something minor, too.

Obviously the Orioles would like everyone to pitch well for the duration of the season, but they would be head over heels if Hall develops into a strong rotation piece. Hall, Wells, Voth and even Spenser Watkins will have an opportunity to pound down the door this season.

John Means should return by August, and Cade Povich, Drew Rom or another prospect could force their way into the conversation later in the season.

The question remains, who would the reinforcements replace?