The future is getting brighter. Maybe not enough for shades, but I am tempted to get some tinted contact lenses…
Less than one year ago, Brian Matusz was waiting for his agent to iron out the fine points of his contract with the Baltimore Orioles. 19 minor league starts later, he takes the mound against the 1st place team in the American League Central, the one with a .667 winning percentage going into the game (32-16), and threw 99 pitches (65 for strikes), went 5 innings, and held them to 6 hits and 1 run, while allowing 3 walks (2 in the 2nd inning, when he got out of a bases loaded jam thanks to Cesar Izturis' excellent defensive play on a ball SMOKED up the middle) and striking out 5 (the last two coming in the 5th, with runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out). The kid looked good, and his changeup is a thing of beauty. It seemed like he had 4 different changeups he used at times. Chris Tillman looked better his 2nd start than he did his first (it doesn't help when your first two major league starts are against Zach Greinke and Justin Verlander (although Jarrod Washburn is no slouch in the pitching department, either), and Jake Arrieta is waiting in the wings at AAA Norfolk.
Add to that Nolan Reimold still looking good, even while going through the expected growing pains, and Matt Wieters (little known fact – Matt Wieters is so good he can even make Jim Palmer stop talking about himself *courtesy of mattwietersfacts.com) is starting to play the game at the plate, too. At first all he wante to do was put good wood on the ball whenever possible, which is understandable, and is not a *bad* strategy, but now he is working and factoring the count into the at bat and trying to find places and situations to try to drive the ball or to place the ball in a particular spot to move the runner up. Basically he is learning how to hit for purpose as opposed to hit for the sake of being at bat. It is a skill that has to be developed once the batter feels comfortable being in the major leagues. The higher the expectations on the player, the longer it usually takes to forget all of that when you step to the plate. Reimold didn't have that problem, hell, he wasn't even the first choice for left field (anybody remember Lou Montanez? Him or Reimold will be a nice trade chip next year or so, as they are too valuable to be a 4th outfirlder, and the Orioles have Luke Scott and Felix Pie for that), so he didn't have nearly the amount of pressure that the Most Interesting Catcher in the World (he taught the ballgirl to speak Portugese…in Spanish) had on him when he came up.
I have to keep coming back to my mantra for the 2009 Baltimore Orioles (this should be the title of their season recapping DVD)…It's not about the W-L record this year. The team is 6-0 when their rookies start (granted one of those rookies was Koji Uehara, but it Ichiro can win Rookie of the Year, Koji can be considered a rookie winning his first MLB start), and has had 5 rookies win their first major league start (Tillman went 4 2/3 and left with the team down 3-2, but they rallied to win the game), which is a MLB record). They have a promising outfield (Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Reimold) who's oldest player is a 4th year budding superstar (Markakis) and it's center fielder is an All Star who has a ceiling that is as high as he wants it to be (Jones), not to mention a pitching staff that looks to be a damn good one no later than 2011. I am going to go out on a limb and say that (unless Arrieta hits a major snag in his development), that the rotation by the All Star break next year will be Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and David Hernandez (although that might be subject to change), and by 2011, Guthrie might just be traded to make room for one of our other prospects (maybe a 2nd generation Johnson, perhaps?). We have potential in the minors at the corner infield positions (Brandon Snyder for 1st at AAA Norfolk and recently aquired Josh Bell for 3rd at AA Bowie). Brian Roberts has 2nd for the next few years while we look for something there, and if they can get this year's 2nd round pick Mychal Givens signed (according to reports in the Baltimore Sun, this is not a guarantee because Givens and / or his agent have seemingly changed demands from what was mentioned when the Orioles were scouting him, otherwise they would not have spent a 2nd round pick on a high school kid) there there is a legitimate middle infield prospect in the low minors next year. Plus, you have to rememberm the mantra of Andy MacPhail is “grow the arms and buy the bats”, and Angelos hasc promised to open the checkbook for MacPhail whe he thinks it is time. They are getting there, it is close. Next home stand, head down to a game, and tell me if you can sniff out the other smell in the air (the one that is obscured by Boog's BBQ and the deliciousness that it provides). It is the smell of progress, of growth. As a long suffering fan, it smells really good with a side of brisket and some baked beans. And hopefully, it will leave us feeling full much longer. Keep the faith, O's fans. There is a corner ahead, and we are finally approaching the turn.
About the Author
Written by Ron Burr
Ron is a lifelong resident of Maryland and has been a passionate player and fan of sports for as long as he can remember. When he is not watching the games or explaining to his lovely wife why he is cursing at the television, he runs an improv/sketch comedy troupe, Drop Three. He can't hit a curveball or run a sub 4.5 40 yard dash, but he knows the games and loves talking about it with anyone. Differing opinions are welcome and encouraged!