May 22, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Jason Hammel (39) throws in the third inning against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Checking in with the Orioles’ Starting Pitching

One week ago, there was real concern in Birdland.  The O’s had already dropped 4 straight (it would eventually climb to 6 straight) and the pitching staff was struggling mightily.  The big story was Jim Johnson’s blown saves, but the starting pitching staff was truly the biggest problem.  With injuries to Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez, things were not looking good.  What a difference a week makes.

Let’s take a look at the health of the starting rotation.

Jason Hammel has struggled for much of the season, but his most recent start against the Yankees was much improved.  He went 6 2/3 innings, giving up just 2 earned runs, striking out 6 and walking just 2.  This was a return to form for Hammel, who looked like the pitcher we saw last year.  Despite getting into some early jams, Hammel was able to battle through.  Hopefully this start was a sign of things to come for Hammel.

Miguel Gonzalez hadn’t pitched since May 3 in Anaheim until he pitched at home against the Yankees on May 21.  After being sidelined for almost 3 weeks with a blister on his right thumb, Gonzalez looked strong, going 7 innings, surrendering just 2 runs on 5 hits and striking out 5 batters.  Prior to going on the DL, Gonzalez just didn’t seem right.  He was allowing many more walks than we had seen last year, which was uncharacteristic of the normally reliable right-hander.  Gonzalez did not walk any batters in his return from the DL.

Chris Tillman has been the most consistent starter for the Orioles all season, though he did struggle a bit in his last outing against the Blue Jays.  Tillman battled against Toronto’s potent offense, and despite picking up 10 hits in just 5 innings, Tillman only surrendered 3 earned runs.  His pitch count through 5 innings was high, though his strike ratio was also high – 74 strikes in 109 pitches.  He did not allow any walks.

Freddy Garcia picked up his first win as an Oriole in yesterday’s solid start against Toronto.  He threw a season high 103 pitches, 72 of which were strikes.  He battled through 5 innings, allowing 2 earned runs on 9 hits and did not walk any batters.  Seeing a pattern here?  With a decline in walks, the Oriole starters have found success.  It’s a trend that is good to see amongst the Oriole starters.

Lastly, the Orioles have called up their first round draft pick from last year.  Kevin Gausman impressed many in his debut against that strong offense of the Toronto Blue Jays.  It is too early to judge Gausman, but the quality of his pitches, combined with the poise he showed on the mound (seriously – bases loaded, nobody out and the kid only gives up one run?!) is looking like a promising recipe for success.

In all, it looks like the Orioles may have turned a corner.  As long as the starters can continue to pitch better, and into the later innings on a more consistent basis, it will help the bullpen to be more successful.  It will be interesting to see where the rotation is when Chen is ready to come off the DL.  One would guess that Freddy Garcia would be the most likely candidate to be booted from the rotation, but only time will tell.  It certainly would be a good problem to have if all of the starters continue to pitch well.

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