For those of you who are familiar with Abbot & Costello’s Who’s on First (the greatest slapstick routine of all time in my opinion), you know that the proper answer to the title is “who’s NOT pitching!” (“…Tomorrow’s pitching, Today’s catching.”) As I said yesterday, the Birds’ last week of Grapefruit League play begins tonight with the Orioles’ maiden voyage to Bradenton this year to visit the Pirates. They’ll have a return engagement on Saturday afternoon before the “Grapefruit League closer” on Sunday against Tampa. Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette seem to have a more difficult job than originally thought in terms of who’s on the roster and who’s not. While I think most of the starting positions may well be set, the question of the starting rotation is still lingering.
Let me preface this by saying that none of this is my decision. I’m merely here to offer my opinions and predictions as to who will be in the starting rotation and so forth. Normally I justify my opinions and then work up to the actual prediction. However for conversation’s sake let’s work backwards today. In my opinion, the Opening Day starting rotation for the Baltimore Orioles will be as follows: Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Jason Hammel, Brian Matusz, and Wei-Yin Chen. While that’s also my prediction for the order of the rotation as well, I think you could probably flip Matusz and Chen if need be.
I think that Arrieta has definitely emerged as the top pitcher in camp thus far, and if the Orioles are going to designate a staff ace (generally the Opening Day starter), I think it should be him. Some people might point at Hunter and Hammel and say that they haven’t had the success in camp that one might expect of a member of the rotation. In the cases of both of them I think that the question is whether or not they’ve done anything NOT to deserve a rotation slot. I suspect that both of them had a bit of an inside track to be in the rotation from the get-go simply because the Orioles traded for them. Tommy Hunter was acquired in a trade last year with the Texas Rangers (which also yielded first baseman Chris Davis). Hammel of course came to the Orioles from Colorado just prior to spring training (along with reliever Matt Lindstrom) in exchange for Jeremy Guthrie. Again, unless these guys blatantly played their way out of the rotation, what would it say if the Orioles tabbed someone else?
The one guy who in my opinion played his way INTO the rotation this spring was Brian Matusz. Granted he struggled a bit in his start yesterday against Philadelphia, he also minimized the damage and was praised for doing so by Buck Showalter after the game. Pitchers are going to have 10 good starts, 10 bad, and 10 where they’re somewhere in the middle. That was Matusz yesterday; if you can come out relatively okay in those starts where you’re in the middle, you’re doing okay. Otherwise, Matusz has been great throughout camp; his command and velocity has impressed me and has reminded me of his strong 2009 and 2010 campaigns.
Wei-Yin Chen hasn’t had quite the amount of exposure as the others, however when he has been in games he’s excelled. According to this article by Amber Theoharis of MASN, Chen picked off the first two runners of his career this spring while with the O’s. Minimizing base runners helps to put a team in a position to win games. In essence it’s the opposite principle of what the Birds are trying to do offensively. Whereas at the plate they want to maximize the number of guys on base which will trickle into runs, on defense if they can get guys off base before they become a problem they’ll be in good shape.
I may be way off, however these are my predictions for the rotation. There are a lot of other names in the mix as well, such as Wada, Simon, Tillman, and even Bergesen. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Orioles found a way to deal someone such as a Brad Bergesen or Chris Tillman prior to Opening Day. We’ve heard for awhile that they’ve been shopping Kevin Greg, and obviously they aren’t getting very far in doing so. However if you package him with someone like Tillman (who’s had an excellent spring), perhaps there might be some takers. I’m still focused on this coming Sunday’s game against Tampa. Since a Sunday starter will generally take his next turn in the rotation on the following Friday, it’s not unreasonable to think that whomever starts that game is the Opening Day starter. My prediction is that will be Jake Arrieta.
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