Now that it’s been just about two weeks since the end of the WBC (sidebar: my sincerest apologies for not recapping the championship round, but major congratulations to Pedro Strop and Team Dominican Republic! There were some excited fans here in Northern California), and Opening Day is just around the corner, I wanted to revisit a question that’s been floating around since the end of the O’s run in the playoffs, do the Orioles have a TRUE #1 starter?
Yes, it has been announced that Jason Hammel will take the mound on Opening Day when the Orioles take on the Rays, but he is going up against the unquestioned ace of the Rays, David Price. Additionally, R.A. Dickey will start for the Blue Jays while Yul Darvish goes for the Rangers. Felix Hernandez signed a massive contract extension in Seattle and Stephen Strasberg strikes fear in NL hitters when his name pops into the rotation every 5th day. While the fact that Hammel spent a chunk of last season on the DL has to be taken into consideration, Hammel was also 8-3 with a 3.29 ERA before his injury. He didn’t end the season on a strong streak after he came back, going 0-3 with 2 no decisions, but he also didn’t pitch terribly in the playoffs against New York.
The current issue of Sports Illustrated quotes a rival scout regarding Hammel, saying, “Jason Hammel has learned to trust his stuff. He used to throw 94, but it would be flat. Now he throws 92-93 with late sink, a two-seamer that really developed when he came to Baltimore” (Sports Illustrated vol. 118, #14).
Last season, it was said more out of amazement than anything, “how did the Orioles succeed without a TRUE, proven #1 starter?” If I had to venture an answer, it was chemistry, a different player (ie Joe Saunders, Nate McLouth, Chris Davis) coming through each night. There have been a lot of questions during the off-season about why the Orioles didn’t make more moves, the biggest being another starting pitcher. Is it the division? Hard to say, Toronto lured R.A. Dickey from the Mets. The Orioles have pitchers (like a Dylan Bundy) who are oozing with potential. However, they’ve made the decision that they are not ready for the big leagues yet. With Jason Hammel, the potential is there, it was evident last season during his hot start. The key will be can the potential connect with his health and can he be consistent. As author Margaret Atwood says, “potential has a shelf life,” so it will be interesting how the team’s potential and desire to build on the success of 2012 manifests itself over another 162 game season.