For as long as Orioles fans can remember, the starting rotation has been a work in progress. The past few years have seen a revolving door of affordable veterans and untested prospects. Dan Duqette has done a good job accumulating a myriad of arms and Buck has done his best to patch the rotation together, but it’s been anything but stable. By signing Ubaldo Jimenez the Orioles will finally begin a season with five proven starters in the prime of their careers. With Chris Tillman coming off an all-star season and Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen coming off back-to-back solid seasons, the only question mark may be Bud Norris. There’s no doubting Norris’ stuff and he’s had success in the past, but can those things translate to success in the American League East?
The Orioles acquired Norris in a trade deadline move that sent L.J. Hoes, Josh Hader and a competitive balance pick to Houston. Norris was having a solid year with the Astros posting a 3.93 ERA in 126 innings. Although he struggled to find his rhythm in Baltimore with an ERA of 4.80 in the last two months of the season, with 57 strikeouts in only 50 innings it’s easy to see why the Orioles felt comfortable giving up some young talent for him.
Norris isn’t the first pitcher to struggle while getting acquainted with the American League East. There are not a lot of soft spots in the lineups, and most of those players are relatively unfamiliar to Norris. Also, coming from immense Minute Maid Park to the minuet hitter-friendly parks in the AL East may be the biggest adjustment. With the big bats and the small parks, the margin for error is much smaller, and pitchers really have to work down in the zone and try to keep hitters off-balance with their off-speed stuff. However, with a mid-90’s fastball and a strong slider, Norris has the stuff to do that. The Orioles hope it’s just about making the adjustments for him.
In a division that’s going to come down to the wire, the Orioles will need consistent pitching to keep pace. Norris will probably be slotted into the fifth rotation spot; a position that won’t garner the pressure Tillman and Jimenez will have at the top. However, if Norris can provide solid innings at the back of the rotation, it could give the Orioles rotation a real boost. There’s no doubt the Orioles want more stability from the rotation, and a solid season from their number five starter could go a long way to fixing that.