The Orioles have three openings in their starting rotation. They're hoping Miguel Castro can fill one of them.
Castro, a cheerful 23-year-old right-hander, was one of the few pleasant surprises on the team's 2017 pitching staff. Acquired from the Colorado Rockies in April, the Orioles had hoped to keep Castro at Double-A Bowie, but after closer Zach Britton was injured and others were ineffective, his arm was needed at the major league level.
In 38 relief appearances, Castro logged 63 innings, fourth-most on the team, trailing only right-handers Mychal Givens, Brad Brach and left-hander Richard Bleier.
Castro compiled a 3.29 ERA in relief and impressed manager Buck Showalter with his endurance and his ability to bounce back quickly.
Nine of Castro's relief outings lasted more than two innings, and on Aug. 3, he backed up Chris Tillman and pitched six shutout innings, allowing just one hit.
After that appearance, Showalter began considering Castro as a starter. He had started in Toronto's minor league organization, but that was abandoned when the Blue Jays, who were taken by his lively arm, tried to make him their closer in 2015 at 20.
That experiment quickly ended, and Toronto sent him on to Colorado, who gave up on him at the start of last season.
Showalter started him in Tampa Bay Sept. 30, the season's next-to-last day, and Castro allowed three runs on six hits in 3.1 innings, inflating his season ERA to 3.53.
With Britton again out to start 2018, the Orioles have four relievers set: Bleier, Brach, Givens and sidearmer Darren O'Day. Castro could return to the bullpen as a long reliever, but with so many openings in the starting rotation, it makes sense to try him there.
"I think he's got the ability to do either," Showalter said. "I think he can relieve. I'm curious to see if he can do the other."
Castro was invited to minicamp in Sarasota, Fla., from Jan. 8-10 to confer with Showalter, pitching coach Roger McDowell and bullpen coach Alan Mills. He didn't throw during the three days.
Castro said he's ready to learn how to be a major league starter.
"Coming into spring training, I will work hard," Castro said through translator Ramon Martinez, the Orioles' special assignment pitching instructor. "It's a different role coming from a reliever to a starter. I have to prepare myself better physically and mentally."
Castro's major league workload was much more concentrated than those of the other relievers. He pitched just 12.1 innings in May and June, and 54 in July, August and September.
In 12 games in July, Castro had a 3.07 ERA, and in his 10 August games, it was just 1.50, but in his eight September games, it rose to 7.04, leaving the impression that he wore down.
"It didn't affect me," Castro said. "I took whatever role they gave me. I took advantage of the opportunity that I got last year. This year, I feel better prepared for that."
Castro allowed earned runs in his final six relief appearances in addition to the start.
"Physically, I was in good shape," he said. "I was working all the time. I was doing the things that I normally do, the preparation physical and mental."
Castro did much better pitching at home, pitching to a 2.37 ERA and allowing two home runs. On the road, he had a 5.08 ERA and gave up six home runs.
"I learned to be consistent, keep the ball down, especially at Camden Yards," Castro said.
Showalter will make the decision on where Castro will pitch in 2018, but it's a given that the Orioles view him as a starter.
"He's got some background in it," Showalter said. "He's had some extended outings, obviously with us. It's nothing that we can't do in the spring unless things drastically change with the makeup of our roster. I think he would probably start out trying to stretch out."\