Yesterday’s 12-10 win over Pittsburgh was a weird game all around for the Baltimore Orioles, or anyone that followed it for that matter. Pittsburgh catcher Russell Martin was ejected in the top of the first inning (an eight-run inning for the Orioles at that) for arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Chad Fairchild. How often does that happen in spring training? I guess it ultimately proves that when players put a uniform on they’re playing to win every time (regardless of the stakes). Later on in that same eight-run inning Orioles outfielder Trayvon Robinson appeared to injure his back after an RBI-single. Robinson was removed from the game in favor of Lew Ford.
In what I feel will probably be an ongoing motif this week, the 5th starter competition remained at the forefront of everyone’s mind, with Brian Matusz being the “next guy up” yesterday. Given the stakes (triple-A as opposed to the big leauges) yesterday was probably as much pressure as Matusz would ever have going to the mound after being spotted an eight-run lead. Matusz pitched four innings (plus work outs in the bullpen between innings) in yesterday’s game, and gave up five runs over nine hits. To his credit, Matusz refused to blame the long stretches of time that he spent in the dugout as the Orioles piled on the runs.
After coming out of the game Matusz noted that his pitches were mostly up, and that Pittsburgh responded in kind by hitting him hard. Pitching too high in the zone has been one of Matusz’s problems since he’s been in the big leagues. As I’ve stated in the past, I do feel that in fairness to Matusz (and a few other guys) he was probably rushed to the big leagues too quickly in 2009 as opposed to being given time to ripen just a bit more in the minor leagues. However that’s neither here nor there for the purposes of 2013’s starting rotation. While Matusz has looked far from horrible as we’ve gone through the spring, whether or not he’s been one of the five best pitchers is a different question. The idea is to bring the five best guys north for opening day (or just up the road to Tampa in this case). In fairness, no pitcher is going to be on his game 100% of the time, and none of the candidates for the #5 starter (including Matusz) have had a “bad spring” to this point.
In fairness to Matusz, going into yesterday’s game it appeared that Jake Arrieta was well in the lead for that rotation spot. So unless Matusz came out and just mowed them down left and right, it might not have even mattered much. Buck Showalter has been non-committal on the issue one way or the other, but we can read something into actions in this case. Prior to yesterday’s game Buck Showalter announced that he was scratching Arrieta from Tuesday’s scheduled start against Minnesota in Ft. Myers. Presumably Arrieta will throw at Twin Lakes Park to get his work in, however the #5 starter won’t debut until Saturday April 6th at Camden Yards…against Minnesota. So is Showalter tipping his hand by trying not to tip his hand in that he isn’t going to show Arrieta to Minnesota? Ultimately whomever is chosen for that slot is going to have some very worthy pitchers in Matusz, Zach Britton, and even Tommy Hunter nipping at his heels in triple-A. This is not to say that it’s one and done if he has a poor outing, however whomever gets the nod will do so knowing that he won’t be in Baltimore long if he isn’t effective.
Prior to yesterday’s game the Orioles announced that they had made a minor league trade, aquiring pitcher Julio Rodriguez from Philadelphia in exchange for outfielder Ronnie Welty. This comes across as a trade for more pitching depth, and I’d be pretty surprised if either player made an impact (or even saw the field) with either team this season. This week will be the last week of Grapefruit League play, and it begins with a game on national television (ESPN) this afternoon at 1 PM against the Boston Red Sox. Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland will get the start, his first at this level. The Orioles have been pretty happy with McFarland, who might well be looking at this start as a final audition. Being a Rule 5 pick, the Orioles have to keep McFarland on their 25-man roster for the duration of the season or he has to be offered back to the Cleveland Indians (same as Ryan Flaherty last year) – if he clears waivers. Late yesterday afternoon the Orioles were rumored to be trying to shop reliever Luis Ayala on the trade market, which would allow them to keep McFarland in the ‘pen.
The O’s will travel to Ft. Myers for the aforementioned game with Minnesota, and that will be their last spring road trip of 2013. Wednesday evening they’ll return to Ed Smith Stadium for a 7 PM game against the New York Yankees (shown on MASN), Thursday evening they’ll host the Tampa Rays, and they’ll officially close Grapefruit League play on Saturday at noon with a game against the New York Mets. (On Friday afternoon they’ll play the State College of Florida Manatees at Ed Smith Stadium, a game that won’t count towards Grapefruit League standings or totals.) At some point after Saturday’s game the O’s will officially “break camp” and pack everything up at Ed Smith Stadium and head up the road to Tampa. In the past when they’ve opened in Tampa (on a Tuesday) they’ve had a workout at Tropicana Field on Monday, so my presumption is that they’ll continue that trend. At some point through all of that Showalter will announce his opening day starter, who I presume at this point is going to be Jason Hammel. Needless to say, things are moving along!