Orioles' rotation may hold the key

Orioles' rotation may hold the key

SARASOTA, Fla. -- What if the Orioles' rotation stepped up in 2016 and each starting pitcher took a step forward? A bold prediction, for sure, as the O's rotation has struggled and will open the season without Kevin Gausman (disabled list) and Miguel Gonzalez (released).

The Orioles announced Thursday that Mike Wright will be Baltimore's fourth starter and Tyler Wilson made the Opening Day roster, and with the Gonzalez news, the O's could be active on the trade front. The team also isn't ruling out Dylan Bundy -- who will be in the bullpen on Opening Day -- being stretched out as a starter later in the year.

Baltimore doesn't have a whole lot of exciting pitching prospects on the horizon -- top righty Hunter Harvey is at least a year away -- and the club can't afford to have any of its starters struggle, especially without Gonzalez as a fallback option. The ideal scenario for the O's is for the rotation to, at worst, be league average as they come out of camp with their biggest question still looming: Can the starting pitching hold up?

If everything goes to plan, Yovani Gallardo -- signed to a two-year deal with a third-year option -- will become the rotation's consistent force, turning in quality seven-inning outings at nearly every turn. Gausman, slowed this spring by shoulder tendinitis, will emerge fresh from the DL and poised for a career year. Ubaldo Jimenez will return to his fantastic first-half form of a season ago. And Opening Day starter Chris Tillman will bounce back from a disappointing 2015.

The lineup is there, with a dangerous amount of power, and the O's bullpen is strong, with setup man Darren O'Day and closer Zach Britton. But whether the rotation can turn a lead over to the 'pen is anyone's guess.

The only Orioles starter with a sub-4.00 ERA last year was lefty Wei-Yin Chen, who signed with the Marlins. Gallardo, who will pitch the second game of the season, went 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA for the Rangers in '15 and has pitched at least 180 innings every season since '09.

Jimenez has had some decent spring outings, and two bad ones, while Tillman -- coming off an early spring injury -- has rebounded well. Wilson and Wright have both been impressive in their own regard and will get a chance to show what they can do. But will it be enough?

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.