Feb. 25, 2010: Can O's Young Arms Adjust?
Oh, how far the Orioles have come in one year. Yes, that declaration is being made knowing very well the Orioles are coming into the 2010 season off a last-place finish, just as they did in 2009.
The big difference from last spring to this one? The O’s roster was fairly set before pitchers and catchers even reported this season. Save a few bullpen gigs, there isn’t a whole lot of competition this year. That alone puts the Birds light years ahead from where they were coming in just one year ago.
Last year’s spring training for the Orioles was a hot mess. If memory serves correctly, of the 25 active roster spots to fill, manager Dave Trembley went to Ft. Lauderdale certain about maybe nine or 10. The remaining jobs were up for grabs.
The worst part was the anemic starting rotation. There was Jeremy Guthrie, Koji Uehara, then fill in three blanks. Unfortunately for the O’s, the names Alfredo Simon, Mark Hendrickson and Adam Eaton were penciled in as if the staff was some sort of Mad Libs game. The word “upside” wasn’t even in the Orioles dictionary.
This year fans feel much more secure … don’t they? After all, the rotation seems to be set, and it goes a little something like this: Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman. We're all set to go!
Hold that thought. Those names have the potential to be “money” on paper. But just knowing who the five starters will be doesn’t mean they’ll be good. The hope is there, and for deprived O's fans, just having a stable rotation seems like a reason to celebrate.
That said the Birds' three back-end starters are very young and very inexperienced. This year will be a search for consistency -- something the youngsters didn’t have enough time to find in their short big league stints last year.
Right now, the only certainty surrounding the Orioles 2010 rotation is the talent in place. There is upside, but not enough to cue to the parade down Pratt Street.
Fans now must ask: Can these young pitchers make adjustments? One thing is for sure, the hitters facing them will. Since the O’s power trio made its debut in 2009, a ton of video has been accumulated and circulated throughout clubhouses. Guys like Derek Jeter, Dustin Pedroia and Evan Longoria are watching as you read this. Many big leaguers have already faced Bergesen, Matusz and Tillman, and the players who haven’t seen them are picking the brains of those who have.
The word is out. Hitters know what’s coming. Now it's time to see if the young bucks can show those hitters something new, something they’re not expecting. Just as a shark will die if it stops swimming, a young major league pitcher will fail if he stops adjusting.
For the Orioles young arms in 2010, the ability to adjust will be the single biggest factor in determining success. It will be the single biggest factor in determining whether the entire ballclub “turns the corner” as Dave Trembley has demanded.
Last year’s rookie arms lived up to their scouting reports, showing glimpses of what they can do over a short period of time. It was a good place to start. However, expectations should be tempered.
Tillman pitched just two months in the big leagues, facing the New York Yankees once. Both he and Matusz have yet to face the Boston Red Sox, and Matusz only made eight starts in the majors.
Matusz has impressed the Orioles and opposing scouts. They believe he has the "stuff," an arsenal of pitches and the mound presence to be great. The question now is: Can he parlay that talent into wins?
Bergesen is the most experienced of the young bucks. He pitched from the end of April until the end of July and was very consistent. However, he only faced the Yankees lineup once in that time span and the Red Sox twice.
We see starting pitchers do it all the time. They mow down an opposing lineup the first time through the order then get shelled the second and third time through as hitters make adjustments.
There’s no question, at this moment, the future looks bright for the Orioles young trio of starters. Last year, they proved the ability to get major league hitters out -- in the American League East mind you. That’s no small feat. Now they have to get those same superstar hitters out again, and again, and again as they prove they can not only pitch in the major leagues, but can have a career there.
Posted February 25, 2010