There has been a bit of a kerfuffle over the past few days as news broke that David Hernandez may break camp as the Orioles 5th starter while Chris Tillman begins 2010 in Norfolk. I have no problem with this. Here are some reasons, but they all surround two facts: David Hernandez will pitch 2010 at age 25; Tillman at age 22.
1) Tillman threw 161.2 IP across AAA and MLB last season after throwing 135.2 in AA in 2009. That's an increase of nearly 20%, and a corresponding increase for 2010 would bring Tillman to 193 IP. I sincerely doubt the Orioles will allow him so many innings; much more likely his target is 175 to 180 IP. Managing his ability to reach that target is much easier if he spends a few weeks in the minor leagues, where pushing his start back a day or lifting him in the sixth inning is much more justifiable.
2) Hernandez, by virtue of being older, will likely have a less stringent innings constraint. By virtue of passing the "injury nexus," the Orioles can push him a bit harder.
3) Since Hernandez is older, he also is more likely to be close to a finished product. If he pitches poorly as a starter this season, the Orioles can move him to the bullpen without wondering what might have been.
4) If Hernandez succeeds as a starter, then the Orioles have a further flexibility with Tillman. He could replace an injured or ineffective pitcher (and someone will get injured), he could piggyback with Matusz if necessary to manage workloads, or he could be used out of the bullpen.
5) If Hernandez does not succeed, then the original plan (Tillman in the rotation, Hernandez in the bullpen) can still easily be implemented.
While I'm obviously disappointed that Tillman has not pitched well enough this spring to win the job outright, I am far from lamenting this development. We all know that young pitchers do not develop in a straight line. That the Orioles can suffer a set-back and still have five viable starters is a big change from years past. That this is the debate we're having less than two weeks until Opening Day is a good sign.