For the third straight year, Chris Tillman will take the ball for the Orioles on Opening Day.
Manager Buck Showalter announced the news on Monday morning after confirming that starting pitcher Kevin Gausman will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis.
Tillman becomes the first Baltimore pitcher to start three consecutive season openers since Mike Mussina from 1998-2000. The 27-year-old went 11-11 with a 4.99 ERA in 31 starts last season and has struggled with a 9.31 ERA in 9 2/3 innings in the Grapefruit League, but no other projected Orioles starter has performed to a level seriously challenging Tillman for the honor.
As it stands, free-agent newcomer Yovani Gallardo and Ubaldo Jimenez are slotted to start the second and third contests of the three-game series against Minnesota to begin the season next week.
Gausman starting the season on the DL isn’t surprising considering he hasn’t pitched since March 16 and received a cortisone injection for his right shoulder on March 20. Showalter said the 25-year-old right-hander could still return as soon as April 10 when the Orioles would need a No. 5 starter for the first time, but it remains to be seen whether that’s a realistic goal. His stint on the DL will be backdated to March 25, the earliest it can be done for the regular season.
Entering his first full season as a starter after bouncing back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen over the last three years, Gausman is being counted on to take a big step forward to help the Orioles compete in 2016.
Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and Vance Worley remain candidates for the rotation should Gausman not be able to return as soon as the club hopes. Veteran Miguel Gonzalez also remains on shaky rotation footing after a poor spring and has a minor-league option remaining, meaning his starting spot isn’t guaranteed.
The Orioles also announced that right-handed pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Monday. The 28-year-old is expected to be a member of the Tides rotation and posted a 6.75 ERA in 13 1/3 innings in the Grapefruit League.
Baltimore has 41 players remaining in major league camp, including seven non-roster invitees.