First off, I did raise my eyebrow last night when I heard that the O’s had signed Dontrelle Willis. However when I heard that it was a $700,000 minor league deal I changed my tune a bit. Granted Willis has lost a lot of steam in the past few years, however he has turned into a bit of a lefty specialist; left-handed batters hist .127 against him last year in Philadelphia. Ideally Willis will stay in the minors and not really be heard from in Baltimore this summer, however he is a viable option as a reliever if he needed. Nevertheless, you have to wonder who else the Orioles could drum up to bring aboard…anyone for Mother Goose?
With the news that Zach Britton and Alfredo Simon have suffered injury setbacks, the Orioles are desperate to find some sort of good news on the pitching front. It’s right under their noses if they choose to look: Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz. Both are coming off of injury-plagued 2011 seasons, however in saying that Matusz complimented that by posting the highest ERA in history for a pitcher that started a minimum of ten games. However while most people tried to bill Matusz as a bust, I still recognized his potential and I was willing to chalk those statistics up to injury. However Matusz has pitched great in spring training this year, including his start yesterday. Matusz’s final line: 5 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 3 K.
After the game (which the Orioles lost to the Phillies 4-1) Matusz admitted that he didn’t have his best stuff yesterday. However in general most big league pitchers are going to be really on the ball for 10 starts, really off for 10, and in between for 10. Those “in between” starts are where the fate of your season lie. If a pitcher can drum up enough swagger to get out of situations, make outs, etc, those games are winnable. Matsuz gave up seven hits and a walk (8 base runners); the rule of thumb is three base runners will net you a run. Matusz definitely minimized the damage in that he only gave up the one run, and put his team in a position to win.
Jake Arrieta of course is coming off of elbow surgery for bone spurs. He’s said on numerous occasions that this is the best he’s felt in quite some time in that he’s able to throw without pain. Whereas Matusz is trying to muscle his way into the rotation for 2012, Arrieta seems to be almost a given. In fact, he’s always talked about as a candidate to start on Opening Day against Minnesota. For my money he’s as good a candidate as any.
Arrieta’s looked very good in all of his Grapefruit League appearances, but also in his side sessions. He pitched in a minor league game on Monday for four innings, and his stuff looked extremely crisp. Granted he was pitching against minor leaguers; however in that sense it wasn’t about statistics and strikeouts as much as it was about the quality and speed of his pitches. Consistently through camp, his velocity has been in the mid-90’s. Like Matusz, Arrieta has progressively gone further and further into games with each start. Again, we don’t want to predict that either one is going to be in the rotation definitively, however that’s a positive sign.
It’s important to throw in that moniker that I’ve used since camp began: it’s spring training. However speaking for myself I’m not necessarily looking at hits, runs scored, etc. I’m looking at “stuff.” The quality of the pitches thrown both by Matusz and Arrieta this spring have been good. To take that a step further, Matusz’s seven hits surrendered yesterday do look like a lot. I even saw some fans on message boards saying that perhaps he was coming back to earth. I see that as an incredibly short-sighted way of looking at things. Seven hits over five innings might appear to be a lot, yet he only gave up one run. The ends justify the means.
I emboldened the word necessarily above because base runners and runs scored are still important. However part of the problem is that people literally expect athletes to be perfect these days. Odds are you’re going to give up some hits or walk some guys in a game; it’s how you deal with them that marks the line between winning and losing. In yesterday’s game Matusz dealt with them well, as has Arrieta this spring. Remember that in the past we’ve seen the Orioles put up ten hits in a game and lose 3-1; why can’t that work in reverse? The O’s have dropped many games this spring, however as was the case yesterday it seems that they’re being surrendered at the end. Whe the regulars were syphoned out yesterday, it was a 1-1 game. When the regulars left Sunday’s game against New York, the Birds led 5-1; that should give fans a lot of hope. As should the efforts that have been turned in this spring by Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta.
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