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O's tab Bedard to start opener

O's tab Bedard to start opener

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo had two decisions to make regarding his team's Opening Day starter. The first one -- which pitcher he'd choose -- seemed to work itself out easily. The second one -- when the Orioles could announce it -- took more debate and discussion.

Finally, Perlozzo shared Sunday what has seemed to many to be a foregone conclusion. Southpaw Erik Bedard will make his first Opening Day start on April 2, when the Orioles face off against the Twins in Minnesota. Bedard led the O's in virtually every pitching category last year, which made his ascension to ace status a mere formality.

But Perlozzo didn't just have to worry about Bedard. Perlozzo also had to factor in the rest of his pitching staff. That's why he decided to be as prudent as possible in announcing a decision that won't bear fruit for another two weeks.

"You're waiting around and you've got a pretty good idea of what you're doing," Perlozzo said, explaining his thought process. "You just want to make sure that nobody gets hurt and nobody gets a sore arm. It's really not going to change anything, whether you do it early or whether you do it in the last day or two."

Perlozzo said that Bedard seemed both humbled and flattered to get the Opening Day nod, but the pitcher did his best to maintain a steely veneer while talking with the press. He never really smiled and spoke in tense staccato sound bites, keeping the media at arm's length regarding his reaction and state of mind.

"You guys make it more of a big deal than anything else," said Bedard, referring to the constant media questions about Opening Day. "But other than that, I didn't expect it. It is an honor to start the first game of the season and just to be called the ace. But other than that, anybody could be the ace on our team."

That may be true, but none of the other starters have built a resume to rival Bedard's. The former sixth-round draft pick led the Orioles in wins (15), ERA (3.76), innings (196 1/3) and strikeouts (171) in 2006, and he's been even better this spring. Through his first four Grapefruit League starts, Bedard has an 0.64 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 14 innings.

Perhaps even more important than the statistical record is the fact that Bedard is representative of the team's plans to build around its young pitching prospects. Bedard is the bellwether of a young group of starters that includes Daniel Cabrera and Adam Loewen in the big leagues and Hayden Penn and Brandon Erbe in the Minors.

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Symbolically speaking, though, Bedard may have worked himself out of that group. Now, Bedard isn't just a front-line starter in hypothetical terms. He's arrived in a way that many of his peers have yet to demonstrate.

"In his particular case, there's always been so much talk about his potential. I think he knows his potential is here now," Perlozzo said. "I think he realizes his stuff is good enough. He's a pretty smart kid. He understands. He gets good hitters out and he competes. He has a confidence now that I don't know he had in the past."

Don't ask Bedard to expound on the symbolism, though. The 28-year-old is more interested in making his pitches on the field than he is to a sea of microphones. Bedard said that the Opening Day bid won't change anything in regards to his work habits or preparation, but he admitted that it may change the league's perception of him.

"Maybe around baseball, yeah" he said. "But for me, no. I'll just do what I did last year, hopefully, and we'll see where it goes."

The Orioles are holding off on announcing the rest of their rotation, but it appears that Cabrera will follow Bedard in the first week of the season and start Baltimore's home opener on April 9. Perlozzo said that despite the presence of an early off-day, the O's are leaning toward staying on turn and not skipping their fifth starter.

"We don't really want to right now," he said. "As long as things progress the way we're hoping they will, we probably won't do that. But if something happens in the last two weeks, we'd have to rethink it."

Perlozzo may well end up rethinking that concept, but Bedard on Opening Day was a true no-brainer. It wasn't something Perlozzo spent a lot of time worrying about and something Bedard likely anticipated as soon as last season ended -- even if he wouldn't admit it to a bunch of reporters huddled around his locker.

"I have a different impression of Erik than you all do," Perlozzo said. "He's probably stoic to you all, but for me, he's come full circle in his demeanor and the ability to talk to him and the way he goes about his business."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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