FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles farmed out another candidate for their fifth starting slot on Sunday, when they optioned hard-throwing prospect Radhames Liz to Triple-A Norfolk. Baltimore sent Hayden Penn back to the Minor League camp earlier in the week and now will choose between three arms for its final starting spot.
Brian Burres, Garrett Olson and Matt Albers appear to be the last candidates left standing, but Penn could reappear at some point if the Orioles don't like what they see from the other three. Baltimore made one thing certain on Sunday, though, and that's that Liz won't be back in the big leagues until he reaches a deeper point in his development cycle.
"I told him that the next time he comes back to the big leagues, we'll expect that he stays and doesn't go back," said manager Dave Trembley, who saw Liz pitch through a rough patch last September. "That's our goal with him."
Liz didn't do anything to deserve a quick exit this spring, as he pitched five scoreless innings and struck out four batters while only walking one. The Orioles just felt he needed more time to develop, which is why he'll head to the Minor League camp in Sarasota, Fla., and get on a schedule that will bring him to a high pitch count by Opening Day.
The right-hander went 11-4 with a 3.22 ERA for Double-A Bowie last year, striking out 161 batters in 137 innings. Liz has struck out (447) more than twice as many hitters as he's walked (187) in his Minor League career. That command evaporated in the big leagues, though, and Trembley said he looked much different this spring.
"Improvement -- better mechanics, more mature," he said, summarizing the high points. "A very good arm, but he needs to go pitch. He's going to throw a bullpen [session] on Tuesday and start on Friday. He'll try to throw four innings in a Triple-A game."
The Orioles also may look at Lance Cormier and Jim Johnson in their efforts to fill out the back end of their rotation, and they may carry two starters-in-waiting as long relievers. Albers has been tabbed to make his first start on Tuesday, but the Orioles will continue to analyze how Olson and Burres fare for the rest of the Grapefruit League season.
Liz, who brings his fastball in the mid 90s, has been working all spring on tightening his mechanics. He's made progress on both his slider and changeup, which has seemed to make his fastball even more effective. The Orioles want him to get on a regular schedule in the Minors to help them decide whether he'll be a starter or a reliever in the long term.
"I think there's some thought on that both ways in the organization," said Trembley, who consistently has elected not to render a judgment on the topic. "But I think right now, for his best interests, he'll go to Triple-A and start."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.