Predicting The Orioles' Opening Day Starter
Each week, two PressBox baseball writers will weigh in with their thoughts on a different question. Last week, Stan "The Fan" Charles and Matt Palmer graded Dan Duquette's first Orioles offseason. Now, Stan "The Fan" and Jim Henneman on who should be the Orioles' Opening Day starter
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
The things we know for sure about the Orioles 2012 Opening Day are that it will take place on Friday, April 6, at Camden Yards. It will mark the 20th anniversary of the opening of Camden Yards and the opponent will be the Minnesota Twins.
But, the question at hand is, who will toe the rubber for the home team this year? It's much easier to recite some facts about the O's opening day starters: all in all, during the 57 years the Orioles have existed, they have to date used just 33 different pitchers to start an opener. Jim Palmer and Mike Mussina each started six times, while Dave McNally opened five times.
Last year's starter, Jeremy Guthrie was dealt away, so his Orioles career ended with three inaugural starts. Whoever starts the game this season, it will be a first timer for the Birds.
The candidate list probably is down one early favorite, because it was just revealed Zach Britton has been battling some shoulder soreness and is just now beginning a throwing program, aimed at having him ready to be on the opening day roster.
That leaves a few names, and a lot of conjecture -- newly acquired Jason Hammel is a possibility, but probably not a strong one. The two free agent pitchers signed out of the Japanese major leagues, Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen, while being counted on to eat some innings, don't figure to be singled out for this honor during their first season
Three members of the group formerly known as the cavalry, seem like uber long shots -- Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman all will be battling just to make the squad. Although, if Matusz is the exact opposite of a year ago, he could emerge as the staff's much-needed ace.
While Dana Eveland, Darren O'Day and Armando Galarraga will scuffle to win spots on the roster, they won't be the chosen one.
|Tommy Hunter was 3-3 with a 5.06 ERA in 12 games for the Orioles last season.
So, that leaves two viable candidates as training camp is just getting under way -- Tommy Hunter and Jake Arrieta. My guess is Hunter will get the nod, unless he pitches his way out of the opportunity. Two others, Matusz and Britton, would be listed as possibilities.
By Jim Henneman
In the middle of February, you probably have a better chance of picking the Opening Day pitcher for their Triple-A Norfolk farm team than you do tabbing the No. 1 starter for the Orioles. And if you're not careful, the guy you pick to start here may very well be the one starting down there. That's how complicated the mess that is the O's starting rotation has become.
Never has the trade of a pitcher with a 9-17 record caused such an upheaval. Jeremy Guthrie will probably retain his Opening Day starter status, but he'll be in Colorado, not Baltimore. One of his two replacements on the roster, Jason Hammel, will be a candidate to replace him, mostly because of the circumstances behind the trade -- but he is only one of at least a half-dozen candidates. FYI, the fact there are six candidates for the No. 1 slot in the starting rotation is not a good thing, and I'm not so sure that throwing one of the many newcomers into that role is a good thing either.
Two of the O's prime young prospects, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton, finished last season on the shelf, and another Brian Matusz, was no doubt lost in a state of confusion after following a 7-1 finish in 2010 with an ERA higher than 10.00 in 2011. Matusz is probably the leader in the clubhouse to open the season for Norfolk, with Britton a possibility if he's a loser in the "option" game that is sure to take place this spring.
There will be a lot of sentiment for Asian lefthanders Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada to make the rotation, with the 26-year old Chen getting an edge on the 31-year old Wada, even though the latter is a soft thrower, probably more suited to starting than relieving. The Orioles' roster is loaded with pitchers who are out of options, which turns spring training into a tryout camp for the younger contenders and seemingly opens the door for one of the offseason acquisition to step up.
Based on a handful of his outings, as opposed to the entire body of work, 25-year-old Tommy Hunter, obtained from Texas last year in the Koji Uehara deal, should be a strong possibility for that elusive opening assignment, even though he is among those with a minor league option remaining. He was a lackluster 3-3 with a 5.06 ERA after the Orioles acquired him last year, but was 22-10 the previous two years and has postseason experience, which is something not too many pitchers around here have been able to say lately.
|Jake Arrieta was 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA in 22 games last season.
But right now, all things being equal, which means everybody healthy, Hunter would be my second choice behind Arrieta, the 26-year old right-hander who beat the Tigers in the home opener last year. I think the timing for his bone spur "cleaning out" surgery last August was more for convenience than anything, because the club was ready to shut him down anyhow. I like the quality of his pitches and his makeup and think his 10-8 record last year and the 115 hits allowed in 119 innings are more indicative of his ability than his 5.05 ERA.
Posted Feb. 21, 2012