It is becoming painfully clear that the Orioles success, short term and long term, is going to hinge on the teams young pitching. With their veteran pick ups struggling it looks as though the teams offense may be in line for a long season. Unfortunately, it also looks as though Matt Wieters and Adam Jones may not become the star hitters the team hoped for. They still could turn out to be solid hitters, but I think it is a long shot that they become players the team can place in the middle of the lineup year in and year out.
As a result of the Orioles lack of production from their hitters, it is obvious they will need to rely on the “Cavalry” to bring winning back to Baltimore. Even though I have lost faith in Wieters and Jones offensively, I haven’t lost faith in the Orioles young starters. Yes, Brad Bergesen is starting to look over matched as a starter, but the rest of the young starters have at least shown signs of becoming quality major league starters.
Let’s start with the obvious, Zach Britton is a stud. Watching him pitch makes it easy to forget he is a rookie who made his major league debut in April. Not only is his sinker and stuff nasty, but he has the poise and command to be a true ace. Barring a major injury, Britton has the makings of being the Orioles first true ace since Mike Mussina. Despite being only 23 years old and in his rookie season I can see Britton starting Opening Day for the Orioles next year with Cy Young predictions not out of the question.
The Orioles other stud left hander, Brian Matusz is currently on his way back from injury and has yet to pitch this season, but he also has shown signs of being an ace or top of the rotation starter. The 24 year old Matusz has struggled at times but for the most part has shown great poise and the makings of a number one or two starter. Matusz has pitched in two major league seasons (one full season) and has produced a 15-14 record with a 4.37 ERA. Yes, the ERA is unspectacular, but remember Matusz is still young and hasn’t even pitched in two full major league seasons. He was drafted out of college, but he also didn’t spend much time in the minors before being called up to the majors. There is still time for Matusz to mature and get better. He has great stuff, but more importantly, Matusz shows tremendous command with multiple pitches.
In his short time at the major leage level, Jake Arrieta has performed well. Arrieta is known for having great stuff, armed with a mid 90′s fastball and solid slider, but lacks command at times. He continues to try to find consistency with his command, which will ultimately decide if he becomes a top of the rotation starter or just a back end of the rotation work horse type of starter. Over 26 starts Arrieta has a 4.51 ERA and has allowed less than a hit an inning.
Chris Tillman probably most resembles past Orioles pitching prospects who have failed. Great stuff, frustrating inconsistency, and questions over his mental makeup on the mound. Tillman has been up and down in his brief major league career with more downs than ups. Tillman is in his third major league season, but is still just 23 years old and has yet to pitch a full major league season. Tillman has struggled resulting in him being sent down to the minors a few times. Tillman’s 5.73 ERA in 30 major league starts is unimpressive and his 6.15 ERA is just scary. Tillman’s velocity has been down at times this season, which is disconcerting. Scouts have also criticized Tillman’s fastball for being too straight and hittable. This has resulted in Tillman getting knocked around at times. However, Tillman has also been very impressive at times like in his most recent start against the Mariners where he pitched 6 innings allowing just one run. I am holding off judgement on Tillman because I feel like Tillman has the most to still work on of the Orioles young starters. Even after Tillman got crushed by the Royals two starts ago, pitching coach Marc Connor commented on how he saw Tillman make some positive adjustments. I still feel Tillman could be a great major league pitcher if he tweaks his mechanics and finds the right pitching motion that maximizes the movement on his fastball.
The Orioles hitting may be hard to watch for Orioles fans but there is still hope with the pitching. Brian Matusz comes back from the disabled list in a couple weeks, then fans can start to watch and hope the Orioles “Cavalry” shows signs of reaching their full potential. Just because the Orioles hitters haven’t lived up to their expectations doesn’t mean all is lost. If the Orioles young starters reach their potential the Orioles can still be contenders…even in the AL East.