The “cavalry” of young pitchers that the Orioles brought along through their minor league system first trickled into the majors in 2009. This process culminated a year later when the final piece of the cavalry made his major league debut in Jake Arrieta. I think that part of the problem with the cavalry is that many of them had pretty solid if not sparkling major league debuts. I remember being in awe at the sheer potential of this sturdy southpaw named Brian Matusz and the late movement on his fastball in the strike zone. However each and every one of these guys also had their struggles at times, bottoming out last year.
Matusz recorded the highest ERA for any pitcher in a season who started more than ten games. Arrieta seemed to struggle as the summer went on. Brad Bergesen, who the year prior had gone from starting the Orioles’ home opener to riding the Norfolk shuttle, had been relegated to bullpen work, as had Chris Tillman (when he wasn’t in Norfolk). In the mean time last year, the O’s seemed to throw anyone that was capable of pitching five to six innings before tiring out onto the bump to pitch on a daily basis. Reliever Chris Jakubauskas was in the rotation for awhile, as were various other guys. It was almost comedic; had he shown up at a game I suppose even the likes of actor Shia LeBeouf or actress Megan Fox would have been given a turn. The cavalry and the rotation was in shambles.
Fast forward to now. Granted we have to consistently throw in the moniker that it’s only spring training, however the likes of Matusz, Arrieta Tillman, and Bergesen are looking strong. Matusz had a bit of a rough first outing against Pittsburgh, however last week against the Phillies he pitched four very solid innings, as he did yesterday against the Tigers in giving up two hits and striking out six (over four innings). Arrieta has been extremely solid in his starts as well, as has Tillman. In the cases of Matusz and Tillman part of their problems last year stemmed from decreased velocity; both are now throwing in the low-to-mid 90′s, and occasionally higher.
According to MASN’s Roch Kubatko, Brad Bergesen has tinkered with his delivery a bit in that he’s gone back to turning his back towards the hitter for a split second before throwing. Pitching coach Rick Adair feels that hitters were picking the pitch up fairly quickly coming out of Bergesen’s hand, and this will hide it a bit longer. Whatever he’s doing it seems to be working, as over seven innings of work thus far Bergesen’s allowed two runs over five hits. That gives him an ERA of under two, which in fact is complimented by Matusz’s 2.70 ERA.
The common denominator in all of this has been injuries. Tillman was injured at the tail end of 2009 and he never really rehabilitated the injury in a proper manner. Bergesen was hit by a comebacker in July of 2009, and he then injured his shoulder throwing in December of that year for a MASN commercial. Those injuries lingered into 2010 and probably weren’t treated properly as it stood, which led to inconsistency and thus the Norfolk shuttle in 2010. Matusz was hurt right out of spring training last year, and I feel that he probably came back too quickly which led to his velocity and command problems. Arrieta has missed time in both 2010 and 2011 with elbow issues, which has affected his command as well.
Some people would call all of those excuses, however they’re also the truth. Nevertheless, the cavalry has been a pleasant surprise in the limited action they’ve seen in games thus far in camp. The issue of course is that the Orioles have a lot of pitchers, including these guys and the many that they obtained in the off season. So could some trades be in the works? You’d hate to see the O’s bring pitchers along in their system only to let someone else reap the rewards, however at some point it’ll probably an issue of trading someone or just releasing them (and getting nothing) if they have no options left.
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