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July 5, 2011

The Orioles' rotation: Disturbing trends for a perceived strength

The Orioles will purchase the contract of Mitch Atkins on Tuesday so he can start Tuesday night’s game against the Texas Rangers. It will be the 25-year-old’s first big league start after seven relief appearances in the past two years with, you guessed it, the Chicago Cubs.

That means the Orioles will have used Chris Jakubauskas and Mitch Atkins in consecutive July starts. They will have used two starters in the first half who weren’t on the 40-man roster in April. In fact, Jakubauskas didn’t even receive an official spring invite and Atkins didn’t throw a pitch in spring training because of a left oblique strain.

This, I am pretty sure, is not how Andy MacPhail drew up the first half of the season.

That’s not meant to be disrespectful to Jakubauskas, a good guy, or Atkins, whom I’ve never met. They earned the shot to start in the majors, that’s an honor and good for them.

But the Orioles’ starting rotation was supposed to be its great hope. If the club was going to turn the corner this year, it would be led by the young rotation.

And now, before the first half is over, two guys who were back-burner insurance policies will have started consecutive games. That’s problematic. And the worst part is that injury isn’t what caused this.

No, it was ineffectiveness by Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen, three pitchers that were supposed to help lead the Orioles back to respectability. Tillman and Matusz are at Triple-A Norfolk and Bergesen is in the Orioles’ bullpen.

The rotation’s woes don’t end there, though.

De facto ace Jeremy Guthrie leads the team in innings with 110 and has a ERA under 4.00, but has 10 losses to show for his mostly solid effort. Zach Britton, who wasn’t supposed to join the Orioles until late April, was forced into the rotation when Brian Matusz strained an intercostal muscle and was great at first. But he is 1-3 with a 4.64 ERA in his past six starts (which is to be expected for most rookies, of course).

Jake Arrieta leads the team with nine wins but has a 4.74 ERA and has a right elbow that has been barking.

It’s tough to find the rotation’s silver lining.

And what the starters have done recently is most disturbing. In its past 10 games, the rotation’s ERA is 8.75. In its past 20 games, only once has a starter (Jeremy Guthrie) gone at least seven innings in an outing.

The Orioles staff, led by its rotation, also has allowed four or more runs in 12 straight games.

The reality is a perceived strength is becoming a consistent weakness. And if that trend continues, this season will only grow longer.

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (43)


How can a season grow longer when it's already over?

Dan any idea when the O's will cease to be irrelevant and field a legitimate pro team? It's pretty obvious Angelos thinks the AL East is a church league.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Dan, andy put the fait of the entire organization on the shoulders of young unproven pitchers. There wasn't going to be any room for error in what he determined was the correct way to go. Grow the arms and buy the bats just about tells the whole story of andy's horrible tenure as the guy in charge. Wins and losses, lack of player development tell the whole story of his failures and he should be shown the door ASAP.He ought to be ashamed of his self.

The O's need to regroup at the AS Break, hopefully BROB comes back and they finish strong like last year BUT I have a feeling it will end like the previous 12 with a terrible 2 months of FAIL to close out the year

Dan, andy put the fait of the entire organization on the shoulders of young unproven pitchers. There wasn't going to be any room for error in what he determined was the correct way to go. Grow the arms and buy the bats just about tells the whole story of andy's horrible tenure as the guy in charge. Wins and losses, lack of player development tell the whole story of his failures and he should be shown the door ASAP.He ought to be ashamed of his self.


And what ever happened to Troy Patton? Wasn't he pitching in the majors three years ago when he came to Baltimore?

I've said it before on these blogs and I'll say it again.... the biggest problem with the Orioles office is there inability to judge talent, starting with AM.

He had shoulder surgery a couple years ago and is on the comeback trail down at AAA.

Buy the bats and grow the arms. I believe Matusz was injured early on with an oblique problem in addition to his wart. He never recovered and I don't believe he looks to be in shape. He always looked winded out on the mound. As far as buying the bats; they didn't buy any bats. Lee and Vlad are over the hill and we paid much too much for their "past performances" and Hardy is probably the best of the bunch although Reynolds seems to be rounding into form. You have to have players who know how to drive runners in. God knows we've had plenty of players in scoring position but the hitters act like little leaguers when they come to bat with runners in scoring position.

It is painfully evident that our pitching and batting coaches are ineffective, and our players are woefully inept or they just don't care.

I think the departure of the Mark Connor is being felt. Any chance his absence is the defining factor in these struggles?

Pitching is such an iffy proposition at the best of times. And betting the season on success of young pitching is a longshot. Based on last season, expectations for Bergesen, Tillman and even Arrieta could not have been more than 60 per cent going into this year (of those, only Arrieta could be considered effective). Nobody expected Matusz to go down. Guthrie has maintained his role as loser of low-scoring games. Pitchers get injured every year. No team survives without pitching injuries and unexplained ineffectiveness. No team can expect to get through a season with less than 20 pitchers, which makes building up the minor league inventory as important as choosing the major league staff. That may be where McPhail has failed. There ain't a lot of inventory on the farm to fill the inevitable vacancies. We can bemoan the lack of production from Guerrero and Scott but when your pitchers give up 6-9 runs in the first three innings, there ain't much chance of success.

Buck sure has his hands full with this he never knows what he is going to get out of his players each day.
We definitely need some changes soon...and I have a feeling these changes are coming after the All Star break. Buck can't put up with this much longer.


Over the last decade or more many of the Oriole's highly rated young pitching prospects have failed to achieve expectations. This may be the latest batch. Maybe they were overrated by the organization. Maybe it's a failure in player development. Maybe it's both.

In any event, nothing has changed with the Macphail regime, and that could be due to the fact that he left the exisiting front office largely intact save for the addition of his nephew as Head of Professional Scouting. Same old names, same old results.

This organization needs an enema from Andy on down, in order to change the paradigm, in my humble opinion.

What is your take on the front office and it's lack of success both assessing and developing young pitching talent over these many frustrating years?

Dan's Reply: It's not just the young pitching. It's hitters, too. Probably the biggest problem with this organization in the past decade-plus is its inability to produce prospects, especially given how high it drafts every year. The draft is an inexact science. But the Orioles' record in producing homegrown players of impact is awful. Not sure if that is drafting, development or a combo. But that is at the root of the Orioles' problems.

Grow the arms ?
The O's are using too much shi# for fertilizer..................

The K-mart bats are not working out too well either...

Same BS, different year.

Different manager, different players, different GM, different pitching coach, different HITTING coach...

Same BS.

Wait a second...

Are Atkins and Jakubauskas here because they earned it or are they here because of the failures of Matusz, Tillman and Bergesen? Pick one or the other, Dan. You can't have both.

Side note: My Firefox tab says "Orioles Insider: The Orioles' rot..."

Good point. They have earned the shot based on AAA performance. But that opportunity was only available due to the ineffectiveness of others. I want it both ways, but if the young guys had had success, Jak and Atkins wouldn't have gotten a shot.

McFail did keep the Stockstill brothers in the front office who are a constant in all this losing.

Angelos is 80+ years old. Nothing is going to change as long as Angelos and his offspring own the team.

It is hard to understand how a man like Mr Agelos can sit still and see his investment continue too lose value.A smart business manwould not continue to sit still and see his investment decline each year.

STOP counting on BRob. If he comes back, fine. But stop counting on him & stop using his absence as an excuse. His absence is 4% of what's wrong with this organization.

The list is so much longer & deeper.

Who was our last Rookie of the Year? We used to produce them frequently in the days of Bumbry, Ripken, Murray et al. You need to blame the GM for putting up with mediocrity from his scouting and talent development people. Andy seems to be good at trades but too dependent on his old friends for scouting.

Jeff Z's reply: Gregg Olson in '89

As always, excellent analysis. What is your perception of the organizational prioritizing of defense? It seems that one of the thing that has really helped the Rays develop young pitchers is making sure that there were good defensive players behind them to give them confidence. The Orioles track record there is a lot more mixed. Defense in 2B, 3B, LF has been poor this year, and decent to strong in other spots (not convinced about Jones yet either).

Dan and i will take all of this one step further.I hope i am wrong but in my opinion it will take 3 years at 30 million for them to sign jj hardy and the orioles aren't going to do that.

How about a Justin Duchscherer update. Seems ever time I read about him it's two steps forward, one step back. Is he any closer to being able to contribute something this season?

Jeff Z's reply: There is none. He's not pitching, he's not close to returning, etc. He's supposed to see team doctors on July 11.

What a disfunctional organization..from
the owner down to the bat-boys.

We, died in the wool, Oriole fans should
stop supporting the organization. Don't
buy tickets to the games, don't watch Masn, don't buy merchandise.
Bring PA to his knees by doing the only
thing he will respond to...loss of $$$$'s.

If you must go to the games wear a
bag on ur head to indicate ur displeasure with the organization.


This has been my absolute number one concern all year. It takes a long time to "grow the arms", a lot longer than buying bats. If it turns out this crop of arms is rotten it will be a long long time before more arms can be grown. As it is, Bundy is the only legitimate arm on anyone's radar that the Orioles have (assuming they sign him) that has not seen significant major league hitting. If none of these guys are able to perform better than they have, we're in for yet another long long wait.

It's definitely too early to throw in the towel on these guys, especially after what they showed us at the end of last year, but it's not at all encouraging, especially for a fan base that hasn't had much to be optimistic about for the last fourteen years.

This is very disheartening given that solid starting pitching was the foundation of the O's 34-23 record under Buck in 2010. It does make you wonder if the coaching changes have had anything to do with this turmoil.

Jeff Z's reply: Gregg Olson in '89 is the Last Rook of the Year.

Maybe the farm system under the Dalton/Cashen gang was just for that time and place of the 60s and early 70s. The O's farm has been in need of good seed, water and sun for a long, long time.

Imagine what happens when Britton reaches his innings limit. What is the rotation going to look like then. I would like to trade Guthrie but you cant now. He has great stuff but cant win. I would rather have 4 Arrietas on the staff with his stats than a guy who pitches great but never really wins. Maybe that is why Cleveland gave up on him? Same old Orioles Joe Jordan and the Stockstills should go with Andy and his nephew out of town. Peter should start trying to pry away the Rays staff. I am sure they are able to be bought for the right price given Tampa Cash flow.

The problems we continually see are the result of both poor talent evaluation and lousy development regime in the minors. The Orioles have their best pitcher ever sitting in the broadcast booth - why didn't MacPhail, on his first day, call Palmer and say, "What were the Orioles' training regimens for pitchers in the minors and majors when you were playing? We want to implement the same routines." In the booth, Palmer is always talking about how things were done - including running laps around the warning track, "Work fast, change speeds, throw strikes - Ray Miller, " "Perfect practice makes perfect" - Cal, Sr. All of the "Oriole Way," plus good scouting worked, so why has it never been resurrected?

One way or another, it seems like Mark Connor is at the root of the problem with the staff. They were already slipping when he resigned. So either they fell apart worse after he left and Adair is worthless, or he screwed them up so badly in ST tweaking their mechanics that they couldn't repeat their success from late last year.

I vote for the later, that he messed them up royally, undoing all of Kranitz's progress. From what you can gather, which do you think it is?

To me the answer is simple and was evident from the first day of Spring Training.....

Showalter failed to retain Rick Kranitz as pitching coach because of loyalty to his old friend, Mark Connor.
Not only did Connor mess with Matusz, Tillman, and Bergesen to their detriment, but then when it came right down to it, he wasn't nearly as loyal to Showalter and chose to quit for selfish reasons.

Kranitz is the man who deserves the credit for the Orioles' strong finish last season and Buck's failure to ask him to stay in favor of personal preference is just one more example of Buck's favoritism overruling his better judgement.
The more I see of Showalter, the less I admire him. He does NOT get the most out of his players, nor does he take proper and fundamental advantage of opportunities during games.

Mike Bordick, Rick Dempsey, Eddie Murray, or B.J. Surhoff are all better suited to manage this ball club.

The Orioles SHOULDN'T give Hardy 3 years/$30 million. I don't think they should give him 3 years at all. Before mid-May he had been an oft-injured, occasionally productive shortstop for over 2 seasons. Let's not get too excited over 7 weeks of admittedly solid production.

This is just another reason to move from the "grow the arm and buy the bat" philosophy to drafting the best player available. We need to draft players that have a chance to help the O's (or some other team) at the major league level. Of the O's first 30 draft picks, (I believe) 15 were pitchers. It is very predictable the majority will not pan out or will develop arm injuries. The O's must be more flexible and start developing potential major league players at every position with a goal of going 2 or 3 deep at each position through out their minor league system .

The state of the O's is pretty sad and will not get better any time soon. Four years (of McPhail’s) is enough time to see improvement, but we have very little to show for time he has lead the team. How sad is that.

Well, that's what happens when you take four 25 year old (and younger)pitchers with 1 full year of MLB experience or less and expect them to carry the team. We all know the potential those pichers have, but the Orioles and AM should have been prepared for the consequences, like what we're witnessing now. I'm not surprised.

I think it's time to show Joe Jordan and the rest of the scouting staff the door and fill those positions with people who can competently do the job. The fact that the farm is producing very little, if anything, under Jordan's watch shows that he and his scouts are not the talent evaluators that MacPhail and Angelos think they are.

These are the reasons that the Orioles need to plant a bulls eye on starting pitcher CJ Wilson. They need find the words, or the negotiating strategy necessary to sign him for 3 years. The team's future starting rotation is already the past.
Instead of looking for Cub rejects and players who have career ending injuries, maybe it would be wise to sign a player who could actually contribute for 3 years.

Hmmm...seems we have mutiny in the stands, or at the least in front of the TV sets.

I do find it odd that the players with the least amount of instruction, Oriole pitchers, are hitting at a .409 pace while the position players are hitting below .260.

Bear the birdfan i think what you said is 100% spot on. I truly believe coonor was the problem all the time and they used that excuse as away to graciously retire him. I to believe that rick k was the reason that this pitching staff was doing as well as it did last year. Buck made a big mistake and continues to make mistakes with his loyalty to veterans that aren't performing.

I see the way that other teams' batters hit the ball, and then I see the Orioles make quick outs, right after our pitching gets shelled. The Orioles are out-talented. There is no other way to look at it.

Freaking Ron "Crack-head" Washington is not smarter than Buck Showalter. He just a roster full of big league players. Something Buck can only dream of.

I don't know if it's Jordan's staff or the minor league instructors, but this needs to be figured out. I get we play in the AL East, but that doesn't affect the way we develop players. It might make some players not want to come here, but the fact we can't develop our own players isn't scary, it's disturbing! If it's not fixed, the O's can go out and sign Prince, but where will the pitching come from? I would give the farm to get the guys from the Marlins to come over here because they develop players, find talent and now when to trade and when to hold on.

John Hart has ties here and is obviously a big fan of Buck, but if the problem is the minor league instructors and trainers, unless he can replace them with HIS PEOPLE, the O's will be in the Titanic over and over again.


Don't you think the O's are going to have to look to trade for a starter? We have 3 guys we can count on, but one is going to be limited with his innings because he's a rookie and the other has an elbow issue. They have to get someone to pitch in the 4th and 5th spot because they don't have one in the minors.

Wow, I'm a diehard O's optimist every time March rolls around, but even I can reflect back and think......the pitching rotation...a strength?? Who was drinking that Kool Aid? Yes, we all had some hopes that a few young pitchers may develop, but come on who was really pinning their hopes on that Opening rotation...even without the early health issues? Not I. Let's not get carried away with the idea that the rotation was ready to be a team strength.

Hopefully this has been broached before, but can someone please check the freakin mound dimensions already? When a professional (Ramon Hernandez) tells you "pitchers go down like flies in this city" (and that was two years ago, do you see a f'n trend by now), someone should look for answers.

I don't know anyone who projected the starting rotation to be the teams strong point at the beginning of the season. If anything, they are living up to the question mark that most of us thought they would be...... most said the bullpen was going to be stronger than the rotation....

I think that the Orioles should move to either New Orleans or Brooklyn and that will solve all their problems.

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.

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