Baltimore Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter has said that pitchers who are slated for the starting rotation will not be playing against American Leauge East foes (for the most part). This comes across as a departure from last year’s policy, which appeared to be that the Birds wanted to get as many guys their reps as they could, regardless of the opponent. There are two ways to look at this. First off, Showalter doesn’t want to give division opponents a chance to “pre-scout” any of his starting pitchers during Grapefruit League play. However what it also tells us is that Showalter is starting to form an idea – or that he already has an idea – of who will be in the starting rotation on April 2nd.
Just for the sake of playing devil’s advocate, I would also submit that this is a two-way street. Not starting your prospective starters against division rivals doesn’t give them the opprotunity to get to know certain hitters that are on division rivals. Granted that on all fronts there’s film on everyone, however especially early in the season sometimes knowing a guy’s tendencies gives you a leg up on the competition. When it comes to “tipping your hand” in exhibition season, I think those things pretty much even out in the end. Again, the Orioles’ pitchers aren’t being given the chance to see the opposing batters either. However I can see where Showalter’s coming from also. Why tip your hand when you don’t have to?
However let’s touch on my second point for a moment; Showalter obviously has a rotation coming together in his mind. That means that the season is starting to take a bit of a direction. I would remind fans that it seemed that the O’s emptied the organization last year in terms of sending guys back and forth between Norfolk and Baltimore. So perhaps the starting rotation on Opening Day is merely ceremonial if anything. Obviously the Orioles would like to have those same five guys remain in the rotation throughout the season, however the likelihood of that happening is not good. So this tells us that Showalter’s paying close attention, and trying to figure out who’s going to be starting come April – even if only to hold those guys out of division games in Spring Training.
Granted these would-be starters are getting their work in on the back fields in camp and so forth, however I would also submit that there are some aspects of a real game that you can’t simulate in practice. My annual speech about NFL preseason is similar; when people complain about preseason games I always point out that you can’t simulate timing between quarterbacks and receivers in a practice. The same is true of pitchers; you can’t simulate work with your catcher (Matt Wieters), because in this case he’s in the games playing. Simulating the act of covering first base is also tougher in a non-game situation, as is timing to the plate.
I suppose that overall it would seem to me that the act of keeping a starting pitcher out of a game (against a division foe) is almost counter-productive. However the reasons for taking this step should be obvious, and it’s an interesting idea. Ultimately when push comes to shove, I think that Buck Showalter has earned the right to have people keep faith in what he’s doing.
Trade: On a side note, the Orioles traded minor league first baseman Michael Flacco to the Boston Red Sox yesterday for a player to be named later, or cash considerations. In case you didn’t know, Flacco’s brother Joe is kind of a big deal in his own right in Baltimore…something about being a Super Bowl MVP?!