As the Orioles’ pitching continues to struggle, it is becoming more and more evident that something will have to change. Ranking 12th in the AL in ERA and 11th in total runs allowed is not a characteristic of a playoff team. Ubaldo Jimenez (0-4, 6.59), Miguel Gonzalez (1-2, 5.19) and Bud Norris (1-2, 4.44) have all failed to pitch deep and effectively into games and it has wreaked havoc on the bullpen, which also has been letting the team down of late.
Evan Meek (0-1, 6.75), Josh Stinson (0-0, 7.25), Brian Matusz (1-1, 5.40), and Ryan Webb (0-0, 5.00) have exacerbated the issues created by the rotation, resulting in a domino-effect that has overworked the bullpen just one month into the season. Sunday’s loss to the Kansas City Royals exemplified the pitching staff’s struggles thus far into the season.
How will the Orioles fix this problem? It is highly likely that two internal solutions to this problem could help alleviate the Orioles’ pitching woes. Norfolk Tides pitchers Suk-min Yoon and Kevin Gausman both are seen to be potential rotation options, but equally important, they are also bullpen options.
Yoon doesn’t have eye-popping numbers in his four starts in the Triple-A. Sporting an 0-3 record with a 6.75 ERA, the Orioles’ most recent major international signing out of Japan doesn’t seem to be an obvious choice. However, after a very rough introduction to American baseball in his first two starts (6.2 IP, 12 ER), Yoon has begun to settle in a bit. Yoon’s last two starts saw him give up just 1 ER in 10.2 IP. Though, he allowed 16 hits and 2 BBs, 1 ER in 10.2 IP is very notable and hopefully will play into a boost in confidence and a sense of belonging in American baseball. He was signed to be a major leaguer, and that is still the intention. He seems more likely to see time in the Orioles’ bullpen before any rotation spot is considered. Like Yoon, Gausman has also bounced back from a few rough starts.
Last year, Gausman established himself as a useful member of the Orioles’ bullpen after struggling in the rotation. Despite a strong Spring Training (11 IP, 2.45), the 23-year-old was optioned to Triple-A to continue his development, and possibly to save his arm for later in the season. His sparkling first start of the season (4.2 IP, 0 ER, 6 SO) was followed by two disappointing starts (combined 7 IP, 6 ER). Thankfully, it didn’t take Gausman long to bounce back, as he allowed no earned runs in a combined 9.2 IP in his last two starts. He will undoubtedly crack the Orioles’ 25-man roster eventually in 2014, and it will be much earlier than September. His talent, and noted success out of the bullpen, make him an extremely viable solution to the Orioles’ pitching problems.
One other solution is giving Zach Britton (3-0, 1.17) a shot at the rotation. That seems to be a possibility, but it would remove one of the few working parts from the Orioles’ struggling bullpen. If Britton failed to be an effective starter, as he has in his previous rotation stints, it could potentially harm both the rotation and the bullpen. The Orioles’ shouldn’t mess with a good thing regarding Britton.
With Chris Davis now on the 15-day DL and J.J. Hardy battling nagging injuries, the Orioles’ offense may potentially face even greater challenges in the coming weeks, even with Manny Machado returning from his knee injury. This means that their pitchers will have even less run support to work with, therefore demanding the best possible staff. If manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette feel the need to make a significant change in the next few weeks, it will likely involve Yoon or Gausman.