Last week I wrote about how I felt that Jake Arrieta would end up getting the start in the Orioles’ first spring training game next Monday in Sarasota. Not only was I wrong, but I also failed to mention that the O’s would be playing twice with split squads. The “B team” (in theory) will play at Tampa in Port Charlotte, FL at 1 PM Monday afternoon, while the A-List guys will play host to Pittsburgh at 7 PM in Sarasota (shown and heard locally on MASN and WBAL). Alfredo Simon will be making the trip to Port Charlotte to start that game, while Brian Matusz will get the starting assignment that night against the Pirates. If you’re going to read something into these decisions (which of course I am because that’s what I do), I’d read more into the night cap than the afternoon game. Simon was solid for the Orioles at the tail end of last year, however many feel that he has very little chance to make the rotation out of spring training due to the number of pitchers in camp. He was afterall merely a spot starter at best for the Birds last year. Buck Showalter has also said that he expects the team to deal between 2-4 pitchers before camp breaks, so there’s an equal chance that they’re showcasing Simon.
Showalter also said yesterday that he had to pick someone to start the game, which weighed heavily in his decision to make Matusz that guy. So from Showalter’s public statements we shouldn’t read too much into this in terms of Matusz (or Simon for that matter) starting on April 6th. What he thinks privately might be a different story. While Showalter said that he had to pick someone and that’s really the gist behind it, I highly doubt that’s truly the case. While in truth he did have to “pick someone,” that comment is probably what they call smoke in mirrors. I use the tactic myself quite frequently in all walks of life for the record! Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair had to have seen something in Matusz and Simon over the course of the last week-and-a-half that made them stand above the rest of the field. All things being equal, you can throw everyone’s name in a hat and pick one to start the game. So odds are there’s a reason these two were chosen.
With regard to the night cap (which will feature most of the Orioles’ regulars), I’m glad Brian Matusz will get the start. I’ve liked him since they brought him up simply because he was a southpaw with amazing velocity and command. All good rotations need a crafty lefty in there to throw batters off here and there. Matusz, with his great velocity and deadly late movement in the strikezone appeared to be on course to be that guy…then he got hurt coming out of camp last season. If he can have a strong bounceback season, there’s no reason to believe that he still can’t be “that guy.” It’s really just a matter of how strong his arm is, and whether or not he can command his pitches. This game next Monday night will be no indication of whether or not that’s going to happen. If it appears that I’m trying to get fans to temper their excitement or disappointment, that’s exactly what I’m doing!
The first exhibition game is almost a one-and-done kind of deal (at least at the beginning). The term “starting pitcher” really takes on it’s true conotation in that the starter is only that: the guy that starts the game. As Monday night draws closer I’m sure that Showalter will announce the full rotation of pitchers and for how long they’ll be in, however don’t expect Matusz and Simon to go more than two innings at most in these early spring games. As the exhibition season goes on the starters will pitch further into games, much like players in the NFL during preseason. So the idea is that if Brian Matusz is lights out in his limited amount of time in the game Monday night, fans will have to temper their excitement. If he struggles, the same principle should apply.
With all of that being said, I still submit that Matusz (and Simon) was chosen for a reason to “lead off” the spring, even if it’s unspoken by Buck Showalter. Whomever gets the nod on April 6th will really be standing above and beyond the rest for sure. As I said, most of the Orioles’ regular players will be featured in the night game on Monday which will be shown on MASN. So if you are reading anything into either the Matusz or Simon starts (which I don’t recommend you do), I suppose that Matusz getting his start speaks louder than does Simon. That said, these moves came as a result of Matusz and Simon standing a bit ahead of the rest of the field in workouts. Whomever gets the start on April 6th will have to stand above the rest of the field in actual games.
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