Oriole observations: Britton, starting pitching, Fox, Machado
Here’s a scary thought if you watched Zach Britton’s first two Major League starts: The left-hander was not even the top starter on his high school summer league team in 2005. That honor for the Dallas Baseball Academy of Texas Mustangs went to Clayton Kershaw, the Los Angeles’ Dodgers ace. Britton and Kershaw remain close friends and talk regularly. They also could have been college teammates at Texas A&M before both eschewed college to sign professionally. Kershaw was drafted in the first round by the Dodgers in 2006 and Britton was selected by the Orioles in the third round that year.
With Brian Matusz and Justin Duchscherer not really close to coming off the disabled list, the Orioles are entering a crucial stretch as far as establishing a five-man rotation. Starting Tuesday in New York, they play 26 games in 27 days with the lone offday coming on April 25 between home series against the Yankees and Boston Red Sox. That stretch includes two series against the Yankees and one against Boston, Minnesota, the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians, a team playing as well as anybody right now. There won’t be any days to skip a starter or piece together a game through the bullpen. There are really no intriguing options down at Double or Triple-A now that it appears that Brad Bergesen will rejoin the rotation either today or tomorrow and fill J.J. Hardy’s roster spot. The Orioles will have to go with a steady five and it will be up to those guys to pitch well to make sure they continue to get the ball every five days. If Arrieta, Bergesen and Tillman are going to morph into reliable and consistent starters, now would be a good time to take the next step.
Hardy’s injury is a serious blow both to the shortstop, who finally felt healthy again, and the Orioles’ lineup which benefitted greatly from having a threat in the No.9 spot. If there is any positive that comes from the injury, it will give the Orioles the option of bringing up a true back-up catcher in Craig Tatum and allow Jake Fox to be used more in a utility role. For now, the Orioles will use the extra roster spot to add another bullpen arm and Tatum will remain at Triple-A Norfolk. However, if some of the younger pitchers start getting deeper in the game, it won’t be long before Tatum joins the club. It was clear on Saturday night that Jake Arrieta and Fox weren’t totally in sync, which is understandable considering they haven’t worked together much. One head-scratching sequence came in the Texas Rangers’ six-run third inning against Arrieta. With runners on first and third and no outs and the Orioles leading 1-0, Arrieta fell behind No.9 hitter Mitch Moreland 3-0. He proceeded to throw back-to-back offspeed pitches on 3-1 and 3-2, issuing a walk. Moreland is a good-looking young hitter, but with the dangerous Ian Kinsler on deck and the Rangers’ vaunted lineup turning over, you absolutely have to challenge Moreland with the fastball in that situation. Now, the responsibility – and the blame in this case - doesn’t fall all on Fox’s shoulder. Arrieta has the ball and ultimately could shake the catcher off and get the sign that he wants. I assume that was one of the things that manager Buck Showalter was telling them during that long conversation that TV cameras picked up later in that game.Showalter’s comment later that Arrieta had too good stuff to have an outcome like that probably alluded to several things, including Fox’s game calling Either way, Fox is a valuable player to have on the roster, but that value is with his ability to play multiple positions and bring a power bat off the bench. It’s not behind the plate.
Orioles top prospect Manny Machado is certainly off to a good start in his first full professional season. Playing for Single-A Delmarva, the 18-year-old shortstop is 7-for-15 (.467) with two doubles, a triple, three RBIs, seven walks and a stolen base in five games. I think the Orioles will preach patience with the third overall pick in last year’s draft, but I’d be surprised if Machado has too many issues with the competition in the South Atlantic League. I’d be absolutely shocked if Machado finishes the season with Delmarva. Heck, he may not finish the month in the South Atlantic League if this continues.