The mid-summer classic is right around the corner and you know what that means Orioles fans. Another losing season is more than half way over and now we look forward to next season and the possibility of an above .500 year…not even a playoff run, just a winning season in Baltimore.
One of the major problems that have plagued the Birds this season has been their inconsistent and unreliable starting rotation, which has taken a major plunge since Mark Connor resigned on June 14th and former bullpen coach Rick Adair took over the reins of the pitching staff.
Now it still is somewhat early in the season as they played their 82nd game last night in Texas, so the rotation can turn it around, but something needs to be addressed. I don’t know if Rick Adair is the problem, but the rotation has looked completely different since he took over in mid-June.
The Orioles found themselves three games under the .500 mark (30-33) on June 14th before heading north of the border to Toronto to square off against the rival Jays. That’s the day Connor surprisingly relinquished his position as the pitching coach under long-time friend and colleague Buck Showalter.
Since Connor departed due to personal reasons, the rotation has only recorded three victories while losing 11 times in 19 games (and the Birds were just 6-13 over that stretch).
Not only has the pitching rotation struggled picking up wins, the staff has surrendered 73 earned runs over just 97.2 innings pitching, which averages to a 6.75 ERA. Over that stretch, Orioles starters are averaging just over five innings per outing.
If the Birds are going to be contenders down the stretch, their starters are going to need to go deeper and deeper in games. Only one starter tossed seven innings or more during the slide and that was ace Jeremy Guthrie against Atlanta on July 1st, but he allowed three earned runs and the Orioles couldn’t figure out Braves’ phenom Jair Jurrjens.
Since Adair took over, the Orioles starters have failed to reach five innings four different times, and twice the Birds hurlers have only pitched two innings. As for quality outings, there have only been three over the course of the last 19 games (A quality outing is defined as a starter that lasts at least six innings pitched and yields three runs or less).
Jake Arrieta, who once was tied for the major league lead in wins with nine, Guthrie, who has been the victim of low run support and tough luck, and the rookie sensation Zach Britton each have thrown only one quality outing each.
Right-handed starter Chris Jakubauskas, who has not won in his last three starts and has allowed 14 earned runs over that time (10.50 ERA), has failed to throw more than 5.1 innings over five starts since the pitching coach replacement. His ERA was 4.58 before Adair arrived and his ERA jumped up to a hefty 6.75.
Although his record does not reflect it (6-6), he has been the most consistent Orioles starter this season and over the past 19 games, he’s started four games, but has failed to record a win, going 0-2 with two no decisions and a 4.67 ERA. He’s lasted at least five innings in all of those outings and only allowed more than three runs one time.
He’s tied for the best record over the last 19 games at 1-2 with one no decision and he sports the best ERA over that stretch at 4.50. He’s also pitched the most amount of innings (24), which averages to six innings per start.
He was leading the majors in wins at nine before he missed a start and the next time it was pushed back due to bone spurs in his pitching elbow. But, since Connor left, he’s gone 1-2 in three starts as he yielded 11 runs and 18 hits over 16.2 innings (6.11 ERA).
In his three outings since Adair took the helm of the pitching staff, Matusz completely fell apart and looked awful on the rubber. It was evident that he returned before he was ready earlier from his intercostal strain in his pitching elbow.
Over those three outings, he was 0-3 with a 12.37 ERA, and his season statistics fell to 1-4 with an 8.77 ERA. Matusz was widely regarded as one of the top starting pitching prospects in all of baseball entering this season after he finished last year on a high note with the Birds, but he has not performed as well as was projected.
He allowed 24 hits and 18 earned runs in just 13.1 innings pitched. Matusz reached the sixth inning only once and failed to pitch five full innings in two of those three outings. After he allowed eight earned runs and nine hits over 3.1 innings against St. Louis, he was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk where he can focus on regaining confidence and learning how to pitch again.
Over the last seven days, the Orioles’ pitchers, both starting and relief, have thrown 60 innings, surrendered 45 earned runs (6.60 ERA) and opponents hit at a .310 clip in seven games. The Birds’ rotation is 1-6 over that stretch, and closer Kevin Gregg converted one of two save opportunities.
When Connor hastily departed from the Orioles organization in mid-June, the Birds’ pitching staff sported a 4.22 overall ERA which placed them 11th out of 14 teams in the American League, and since then it has risen to 4.51, which places them currently at 13th.
Now that might not seem like a lot to you, just about .30 higher, but that’s a huge increase in just over half a month. If the Orioles’ staff ERA continued to rise .3 each month, they would finish with an ERA around 6.30 for the year, which is considerably high.
The Orioles starting rotation’s record while Connor was in charge was a modest three games under .500 at 22-25 through 66 games. With the exception of Guthrie, all Orioles starter’s records were over .500. Now, two of those records are even at .500, one is sub .500 and two remained the same (one above .500 and one below .500).
I haven’t spent much time discussing the bullpen because they have been much more consistent this season and they are the only reason why the Orioles team ERA is not over five runs per game. The Orioles main problem is their starting rotation and they need to do something quickly if they are going to have any chance at making a playoff run this summer.
Ever since 1997, Baltimore has really had trouble filling their rotation with quality arms. I can’t remember more than four or five Orioles starters who performed well over an entire season. Erik Bedard, Rodrigo Lopez, Sidney Ponson and Mike Mussina all come to mind.
But, none of these starters are with the organization anymore. Bedard was traded to Seattle, Lopez left for Arizona, Ponson went to San Francisco and Mussina to the Yankees and then retired. The Orioles front office needs to go out and seek a proven and veteran starting pitcher who can take the lead in the rotation and take everyone under his wing.
President of baseball operations for the Orioles Andy McPhail tried doing this a couple of years ago by bringing in Kevin Millwood, but that back fired and he never really seemed comfortable on the mound for the Birds.
I understand the Orioles organization is trying to build with younger talent so that they can create a solid foundation for many years to come, but they need someone to look up to and learn from.
Guthrie is the oldest Orioles starting pitcher at 32 years of age; he made his debut for the Indians in 2004, but really didn’t appear in many games until the Orioles acquired him in 2007.
Other than Guthrie, no other Orioles starting pitcher has more than two years experience in the majors. Jakubauskas and Matusz debuted in 2009, Arrieta pitched his first game last July and Britton’s first major league start occurred this April.
So, in order for the Orioles to continue to build and grow, I think the main component is for the front office to go out there and find a starting pitcher who has more than five seasons under his belt in the majors and has an understanding of how to pitch at the major league level.
I think Guthrie was thrown into the fire too early and was expected to produce more than he has because he was too young. He’s had to learn how to be an effective starting pitcher while leading the Orioles pitching staff.
So, the Orioles need to make some changes. Whether it be a new pitching coach, or going out and snagging a proven veteran, the Birds need to add some help to their starting rotation if they want to ever be contenders in the American League East.
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About the Author
Written by Alex Van Rees
I am 22 years old and I recently graduated from James Madison University this May with a BA degree and a major in journalism. I live in Reston, VA, about 20 minutes outside of Washington. I am looking for an entry-level position with a sports media company where I can demonstrate my writing, interviewing and technical skills to better the organization.