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The Orioles wrapped up a 7-game road trip today and will be back in the comfort of Camden for the next 6. The trip was a split success as the Birds took 3 of 4 from the White Sox in Chicago, but dropped 2 of 3 against the Royals in Kansas City. Jake Arrieta picked up two wins on the trip and Chris Tillman split his two starts. Kevin Gregg looked to get his season headed in the right direction with two saves.

That bats woke up on the trip and fans will hope to see the hit parade continue during the home stand. In 5 of the 7 games the O’s had 8 or more hits. Luke Scott had 3 homers, bringing his season total to 6. Nick Markakis raised his average from .204 to .225. Matt Wieters had 5 RBI in the five games he played in and Robert Andino had 7 hits in his 23 at-bats for a .304 average on the trip.

The Orioles are currently 14-16 and still .5 game up on the Red Sox, which still has to feel good, and only 3.5 games behind the division leading Yankees. Tampa Bay comes to town this weekend, and after the off day on Monday Seattle will be here for three Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. David Price pitched today for the Rays so they won’t face him, which is never a bad thing. At 2.5 games behind Tampa in the division, a series sweep would mean when Seattle comes to town the O’s would be in second place.

Rotation Taking Shape

On Thursday we learned what the Orioles rotation will look like to start the season, well part of it anyway. Despite an up and down spring Jeremy Guthrie, to no one’s surprise, will start the opener this Friday against Tampa Bay. It will be the third time in the last four years Guthrie will get the ball to get the season started.

24 year-old left-hander Brian Matusz will get the start on Saturday and second-year starter Jake Arrieta will get the ball on Monday in the home opener against Detroit. On starting in front of the home fans Arrieta said, “Everybody’s going to be excited for the 2011 season. I plan on going out there and showing them what we’re capable of doing this year.”

The spot for Sunday’s game is still up in the area and Showalter is believed to be deciding between Chris Tillman, Brad Bergesen, and top pitching prospect Zach Britton. Britton took an interesting approach to the news that he’s still in contention for starting the season in the rotation, “Obviously I don’t have the experience of the other guys, but I haven’t had the opportunity. Until I get that chance, I’m always going to be the guy without experience.” His time of no longer getting that chance will almost certainly end this season, it’s just a matter of when. Even if he’s not on the opening day roster there aren’t many that believe that he won’t be called up at some point this season.

Due to continued soreness in the hip he had off-season surgery on, it looks like Justin Duchscherer will start the season on the DL. That would give two of the three starters listed above with a shot at being in the rotation, atleast for a short time. The hope is that Justin will be back towards the end of April to take over as the fifth starter.

There’s still a few days left for Showalter to brainstorm about the remaining pieces to his rotation puzzle, but we’ve got more of an idea of what it will look like than we had a week ago. With the injury track record of Duchscherer I would imagine that this won’t be the only time this season we’ll hear about someone filling in for his spot in the rotation so the shuffling may not be completely over yet.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Baltimore Orioles

Yesterday, MLB Network’s tour of all 30 major league team spring training sites stopped in Sarasota where they previewed the upcoming season for the O’s. The hour long special was hosted by Paul Serevino, with Lisa Kerney reporting, and Dan Plesac & John Hart as the analysts.

One overwhelming theme was the influence of Buck Showalter. On Showalter, Hart said “There used to be a time when the Oriole Way really meant something. I see that coming back with Showalter.” To anyone who has followed the history of the Orioles, that means something. A team with a tradition rich history has not left fans with much worth remembering for the past decade, but when Showalter took over for Juan Samuel last July things turned around and wins followed. After his arrival the O’s went 34-23, which was the best record among A.L. East clubs over that span.

Both Hart and Plesac were quite complimentary of the key components of the lineup in Roberts, Jones, Markakis, and Wieters. Roberts was labeled as “the key to the lineup”. Hart sees Jones as a 20 homer guy with .300 potential. Hart also spoke of Markakis as the face of the franchise, who should be a consistent .300 hitter.

I was fortunate enough to be at Camden Yards on May 29, 2009 when Matt Wieters made his much anticipated debut. The television stations and radio stations were almost drooling. From the moment it was announced earlier that day, the game (which previously wasn’t announced as being a sellout) sold out. The feel around the stadium was electric. As he walked to the plate for the first time the theme to the movie “The Natural” played over the loud speakers. No pressure at all though, not in the least. When speaking about Wieters Hart cautioned us all to temper our expectations just a bit, atleast for now. He mentioned that his vast offensive potential will be reached, but for now his defense and handling a young pitching staff were his main priorities.

On the pitching staff he had extra praise for Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton. On Arrieta he said, “This is a big, strong, physical kid with pluses all across the board.” When it came to Britton his praise was just as high, “All the things you want to see young pitchers do, this kid does it. At worst, he’s going to be a middle-of-rotation starter and could go as high as number two in a rotation.”

The consensus at the end of the show was that they saw the Orioles as a .500 team this year, which would be a 15 win improvement over last year’s 66-96 record. I would tend to agree as the offense should be much improved and should score enough runs to give the young starters a bit more leeway on the days they don’t have their best stuff. It should be a fun season as the optimism around town is higher than it’s been in a while. I’d be happy with a 15 win increase and I think, inside, most O’s fans would be as well.

For those of you who missed the show, here are links to a few segments via MLB Network.

Nick Markakis discusses the impact of Buck Showalter

Jeremy Guthrie talks about how to make 2011 better than 2010

Matt Wieters’ expectations for this year’s pitching staff

Derrek Lee on his new team

Arrieta Shows Poise

Promising right-hander Jake Arrieta continued his solid spring with another good start in yesterday’s 8-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. His victory leaves him 2-0 in three starts this spring with an ERA of 4.00. While he’s gotten himself into situations where he’s had to work with runners on base, as evidence by his 13 hits allowed in 9 innings so far, he’s done a solid job of maintaining his composure and working out of situations, a trait that you see more from established veterans and not someone with his relative inexperience at the major league level. He’s also done good job minimizing walks, only allowing two, which as helped to aid in his damage control.

Yesterday’s outing was much of the same. He gave up 8 hits in 4 innings, but since he picked up the win I feel obligated to say those hits were “scattered”. On the impressive side he struck out 6 with an no walks. Despite the high hit total, the most runs he gave up in an inning was one, once in the second inning and once in the fourth. Arrieta was noticeably upbeat and positive after the outing and was quoted as saying,  “A ton of strikes. I felt comfortable with all my pitches, my depth on the breaking ball was very good, same thing with the slider. My changeup is coming along. I don’t think I could be happier with the progress up to this point.”

Buck Showalter, being the perfectionist he always is, wasn’t quite as complimentary with this post game comments. He said the Jake was “up with a few pitches” and that he had “seen him alot better”. He went on to say that for his next start he would let Arrieta go 5 innings and see how that goes. I like the approach by Showalter and his motto of always trying to improve and never being completely satisfied is exactly what the O’s need and especially this young pitching staff.

It will be fun to watch the season unfold and follow one of the Oriole’s more highly touted pitching prospects begin his journey through the major leagues in his first full season with the club. As with any young pitcher he’s a work in progress and there will be bad starts. But the future certainly looks bright when you can see that he’s not just relying on pure physical ability, but thinking his way through situations. I’m looking forward to heading down to Camden Yards to get an upclose look for sure.

Catching up

A few things to catch up on:

Despite yesterday’s lackluster finale, the O’s took 2 out of 3 from the Yankees. A sweep would have been nice, but this is good enough.

-Daniel Cabrera

If I’m ever on the fence about whether to go out or stay in and watch the game, Daniel Cabrera is a pitcher who lets me know pretty quick as to what my plans should be.

First innings, he gives up 2 runs or strike out the side.

Second Innings, he’ll follow it up with another run or two or he’ll strike out of the side again.

By the top of third, I usually know whether to go or stay. If anything, I thank Daniel Cabrera for him letting me know quick whether he’s going to stink or not.

 

-Jim Johnson

Hey, I was wrong. I thought bringing Johnson up was a bad move. He’s been good in long relief. Saturday he went 3.1 innings of scoreless ball. It looks like he’s staying. But we need another bat on the bench…bye bye Greg Acquino?

-Brian Burres

He’s swell in 4 innings, but once that 5th starts….he’s a big inning waiting to happen. 5.2 innings 5 H 0 R 4 BB and 2 Ks.

-Luis Hernandez is no friend of Daniel Cabrera at the moment. He did the pitcher no favors by his defense on Friday, resulting in a long inning and a run on Cabrera.

Trembley uses the term ‘fielding slump’ for Hernandez’s woes.

“Fielding slump” must be Tremblian for “Cintron will be here quickier if you don’t remember how to field.”

Spencer Fordin once Alex Cintron gets in a groove in Norfolk, he should be up here very soon.

Also in the aforementioned mailbag…

Jake Arrieta is off to go start in Fredrick. 4 starts, 1-0 record, 2.75 ERA, 26 K, 12 BB, 10 H.He likely won’t see Bowie til the end of season, meaning that he isn’t going to be rushed to Baltimore like the pitching prospects of years gone by.

Speaking of rushed pitching prospects, Hayden Penn has pitched 7 innings in his last two starts (1-1 and a 4.88 ERA). Garrett Olson is 1-1 with a 1.75 ERA in 4 starts. These two should be in the rotation at some point this season. Olson’s getting first look the way’s he’s pitching. Of course, whose spots would they be taking? Steve Trachsel would be an easy guess. Brian Burres would be too. You have to factor in injuries.

My guess for the end of season rotation.

Guthrie

Cabrera

Olson

Albers

Penn

Steve Trachsel will be traded, released, or sold for scrap some time this season. Brian Burres is best suited for long relief and that’ll happen soon enough. I’m betting, not hoping, that Adam Loewen will probably have an injury some point this season. Radhames Liz will be called up to take Albers spot in long relief. I could be right…I could be wrong. That’s the beauty of guessing.

Matt Wieters is killing it. .422 and 4 HR in 15 games. Your starting catcher for your 2009 Baltimore Orioles…Matt Wieters.

-Steve Trachsel didn’t pitch bad Sunday, but he didn’t pitch great either. 6.1 innings 7 hits, 3 runs, 5 Ks, and 3 BB. That’s more than you’d expect actually…

-George Sherrill….ouch. 0.2 innings- 2 hits, 3 R, 2BB, and 2 Ks. His ERA is at 6.23 after now 2 rocky outings in the past week. Its not time to hit panic button on him. He’s a setup guy made into a closer who has 6 saves. If it keeps up who you do plug in? Jamie Walker? He’s a setup guy. Chad Bradford. ditto. Dennis Sarfate? Would be a nice guess, but he’s got to get his control under control. The closer spot isn’t something really to worry about at the moment.

Garbage Homer Follow up-

Had a good solution for the garbage homer from Daniel

Perhaps Corey Patterson and Jay Gibbons just aren’t very good hitters (shocking, I know) so when a team has a huge lead, the opposing pitcher is OK with throwing fastballs in the zone (which these guys can actually hit) and when the game is close, they throw breaking-pitches and paint the corners (which they can’t hit). I don’t think it has anything at all to do with “clutchness” but is rather a general lack of talent. I question whether or not it is actually the case that these players do hit a lot of “meaningless” HR, so I’ll take a look at that sometime soon and post something about it. If you already did that, then I will defer to your conclusions (I assume it’s just your impression of what happens).

Yeah, its just an observation. I didn’t crunch any stats, but it is the lesser players who crank out those homers. Of course, the factors that  you mention definately seem to set up the perfect storm for a garbage homer.

Blowout game=bullpen scrub + junk pitch + lesser player= garbage homer

If I had the time, which I doubt, I’d like to look up who Jay Gibbons and Corey Patterson homered off of over the course of their time in Baltimore. I’m sure there’s more washed up relievers, 5th starters, and last bullpen options than aces, closers, and good setup guys…especially Gibbons.

Daniel runs the blog Frost King Baseball.

Not to have a knee jerk reaction here, but Iam Kennedy and Phil Hughes are supposed to be the future of  the Yank’s pitching staff. So far this season, they’re not exactly killing it. They both got killed by the mighty bats of O’s this weekend. Of course, I’m taking into account that its going to take them 10-12 starts to get acclimated to the major leagues. You can’t just throw them in there and on the first day expect an eight inning shutout from them. But let’s say they are what they, you think heads might roll because they could have got Johan Santana?

I was watching ESPN yesterday and surprise, Steve Phillips said something stupid. They were talking about possible landing spots for Frank Thomas and one of the 4 teams he thought was Baltimore. His reasoning was something along the lines “As long as they keep playing the way they are, a bat like Thomas would really help them out.” Frank Thomas is almost 40. We’re rebuilding and trying to shed players the wrong side of 30. What would adding Thomas do for the O’s? He might heat up and hit 20 homers. But that means you have play him everyday at DH, which means you’re giving up a spot in offense that could be used to get a young player playing time, whether it be at DH or moving a Huff/Millar/Mora to DH any given game to have a Scott Moore at 3rd or DHing Luke Scott every now and then. If Thomas isn’t hitting homers, he’s like a boulder on the base paths. That’s certainly not Trembley’s style of ball. It’s not going to happen, but I thought it was a stupid suggestion. If Thomas plays again, my money’s Seattle first. Maybe Tampa or the Twins. I could even see the Rangers. But not the O’s.

 

 

Wieters hits 2 HRs in Debut

(from the Baltimore Sun)

Matt Wieters had an awesome debut with the Fredick Keys last night. Wieters homered in his first two at bats and went 2-3 with 3 RBIs. I think he’ll be the starting catcher for the O’s next season. If he keeps this up, there’s going to be plenty of folks saying “what’s he’s doing he minors? He should be up here now!” Remember, he’s been a college player and as the article says he’s used to only playing 68 games a season. The minor league season is 140 and the major league season is 162. Being a catcher, he’s not playing every single game. Let’s get him a full season in the minors and get his durability up instead of rushing him up early like we do all of our prospects just to humor ourselves.

A couple of other minor league notes:

Jake Arrieta, a fifth-round pick out of Texas Christian, got the start, allowing a run on two hits and striking out nine in four innings.

Jake Arrieta had a nice start, you’d like to see him go further than 4 innings but its the first start of the year. Give him a few starts and let him get the durability back up. 9 Ks in 4 innings is pretty sweet. He could look nice in the rotation next season, if he keeps this up.

The only sour note involved Billy Rowell, who pulled up while running to first in the first inning and was removed from the game.

It was just a tweak to the ankle, so nothing major. I’m look for him to have a big year so he can be a part of the big club next season.