When the Orioles announced the hiring of Dave Wallace as the team's new pitching coach Oct. 29, 2013, the move barely registered a blip on the radar screen of most Baltimore sports fans.
While I thought it was a smart move at the time, looking back, I can see clearly how important the hiring of Wallace was. Rick Adair, the team's pitching coach from 2011-13, left the team during the 2013 season to tend to his ailing father, and then confirmed during the offseason he would not be returning.
Wallace became the fifth pitching coach to serve under manager Buck Showalter, following interim pitching coach Bill Castro (2013), Adair (2011-13), Mark Connor (2011) and Rick Kranitz (2010).
Clearly, Showalter and Orioles vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette sensed the need for bringing in a coach who could provide a stabilizing presence for a staff comprised primarily of young arms.
And they seem to have found their man in Wallace.
Starting pitcher Bud Norris' seven innings of three-hit baseball Aug. 18 was just the latest example of Wallace's handy work. Norris is 11-7, and both his ERA (3.69) and WHIP (1.21) are career bests.
Norris isn't the only Orioles pitcher having a career year.
Lefty Wei-Yin Chen has been dazzling during the past two months on his way to a 12-4 record and 3.76 ERA for the season -- a marked improvement compared to the past two seasons when he was a combined 19-18 with an ERA just better than 4.00.
Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman have both been coming on strong of late. Gonzalez was 4-5 with a 4.04 ERA during 16 games before the All-Star break, but in his four starts since then, he has posted a 2-1 record and 2.92 ERA. Tillman was 7-5 with a 4.11 ERA during 20 starts before the All-Star break, but during his six starts since then, he has posted a 2-0 record and 2.35 ERA.
And the youngest arm of all in the Orioles' rotation, 2012 draftee Kevin Gausman, has improved from a 3-5 record and 5.66 ERA in 2013 to a 7-4 record and 3.70 ERA in 2014.
The common denominator through all these statistics is the watchful eye and diligent tutelage of Wallace.
Ironically, the highest-paid pitcher in Orioles history is the one who remains the biggest enigma of all.
While Ubaldo Jimenez looks to be a long shot to contribute anything meaningful to the ballclub this season, I wouldn't bet against Wallace unlocking the key to Jimenez's past success and delivering some value against the righty's hefty contract.