Orioles 2012 Reflections: Starting Pitcher Du Jour

This is the 4th of 12 posts on the season past and is a personal reflection upon some of the really stupid and few really smart things I wrote since last winter – posting every other day at 3:00. This is actually the final of the four dumb and dumber things I wrote … and tomorrow I’ll begin talking about how smart I really am!

Coming into the 2012 season, everyone believed the Orioles could only go as far as the starting pitching would facilitate – that starters simply had to go deeper into games in order to not kill off the bullpen. Before the season, it was not crazy to imagine how the Orioles could have a pretty decent pen, but who could have anticipated how incredibly well they would perform?

It can be said, I believe, that the starting pitching situation for the Orioles performed reasonably well in the big picture of things. However, it was not accomplished in the way that anyone might have imagined – being done rather with an unusually large number of varied personnel. The original five starters – who bolted out of the gate in the early weeks of the season with fine performances – would 80% disintegrate over the course of the season. Only Wei-Yin Chen would make it all the way through.

Hopes were especially high for a quality return of Jake Arrieta. My hopes were high and my confidence in him … well … let’s just say it was overly optimistic. Here are three pre-season posts that I wrote about him (and other starter candidates):

1/31 – Starting Pitching: Arrieta appears healthy and is solid and Guthrie remains an innings-eater. Britton will be a part of the rotation. Hopefully Matusz or Tillman or Bergesen can regain form, but no bets can be made on any of them. Chen and Wada are good potential candidates.

3/11 after early spring training games … Jake Arrieta – I am not surprised that his first outing went well and that the recovery from surgery is apparently successful. Jake could well be the ace of the team for a long time. That would not really astonish any serious O’s fan – we just needed to see it happen. When he is on with his stuff working, he is a top-of-the-line pitcher.

3/19 – Arrieta, Tillman, Bergesen – The early returns are sufficiently good. With Arrieta, I believe it was just a matter of getting over the surgery, and I think this guy will be pitching every fifth game for the Birds for a long time.

May 29, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (34) during their game against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays beat the Orioles 8-6. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

Wow, as I read that again, it just makes me sad. Actually, Arrieta is the poster child for a number of phrases in “The American Dictionary of Sayings and Expressions.”  Never heard of it?… nor have I … but here are the headings under which his picture appears: “looks like a deer lost in the headlights,” and “stunned expression of confusion and bewilderment.”  Another location is next to “repetitious nervous habit.” By this I am referring to his between pitches habit of grabbing the bill of his cap and adjusting it yet again. At a game I attended where Arrieta pitched, I counted him doing that a total of 114 times over 7 innings (pictured here).

There is a phase that I wrote that is absolutely true: When he is on with his stuff working, he is a top-of-the-line pitcher. I am convinced that few of his problems are related to ability; in fact, he is a physical stud of a guy. I believe the problems are from the neck up. Arrieta has as much as admitted such in a 9/6/12 article by Eddie Encino. Arrieta said of his early season trials, “I had so much clutter in my mind, I just had so many thoughts racing through my mind at one time that it was so hard for me to put all of that aside and just pitch … I was so stressed on throwing seven innings or not giving up this amount of runs, I was so far away from the thought process that I need to be successful at any level.”

There really is a significant mental aspect to the game, especially at the highest levels of a sport where the margins between success and failure are not often that large. Arrieta seemed to work out some of these problems through a counseling program and his AAA stint in the late summer. All O’s fans would love to see Jake maximize his considerable potential. And if by some stretch Arrieta were to Google his name and read this, I say to him: “Jake baby, sorry to be hard on you with some things written, but we all love you man and want to see you succeed. You’ve got all the stuff in the world; go throw the ball and let Wieters do the thinking for you. You can be great – and you could vindicate my words that you will be an ace for the team for a long time!”

But back to the entire starting pitching situation for 2012, it really is amazing as to what happened with new people being thrown in and stepping up to the task at hand, especially Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez … along with Steve Johnson and Joe Saunders. It often was a “starter du jour” situation for the Orioles.

And as we look toward 2013, I am optimistic about the stable of horses that are starting pitcher choices for the Birds. I am not of the opinion that a front-line starter is the most pressing need to seek in a trade or through free agency. I would rather see the dollars invested more in that middle of the order hitter that Duquette has spoken about.

Twitter:  @OSayOrioles

Topics: Baltimore Orioles, Jake Arrieta

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