Projecting the Baltimore Orioles' Opening-Day Pitchers
The Baltimore Orioles are a team rebuilding for the future. They have some young pitching prospects to be reckoned with, such as Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and Brandon Erbe. Which pitchers will make the O's 25-man roster? It is likely the O's will carry a four-man bench, so the O's will carry 12 pitchers. Here's who they should be:
Relief pitcher Matt Albers
Last year, 26-year old Matt Albers was a pleasant surprise for the O's, going 3-3 with a 3.49 ERA out of the bullpen, just a year removed from going 4-11 with a 5.86 ERA in 18 starts for the Houston Astros. Albers was acquired by the Orioles in the famous Miguel Tejada trade that sent Tejada to Houston and Albers, among with four others, to Baltimore. Albers, now back and healthy, is a lock for the Orioles' roster as a set-up man for whomever the Orioles closer may be. The O's are going to play it safe with Albers, as they don't want to rush an important part of their bullpen. Albers has looked healthy in Spring Training thus far, tossing two perfect innings, with no hits, no walks and one strikeout.
Starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie
Last year, Jeremy Guthrie proved stats lie. He finished 10-12 with a 3.63 ERA, but led the majors in quality starts before leaving a game against Tampa Bay with an injury. Guthrie was one of the most consistent pitchers in all of baseball, but his record just didn't show it. Guthrie was sharp in his only Spring Training appearance for the O's, tossing three shutout innings against the Marlins before leaving for his WBC duties with Team USA. Guthrie will be the Opening Day starter against the New York Yankees. Barring a serious injury, that will happen and Guthrie will be the No. 1 starter for the O's throughout the season. The 29-year old was a genius pickup by the front office, and hopefully will prove so again this year.
Relief pitcher Mark Hendrickson
The only puzzling decision Andy MacPhail made this offseason in my mind was acquiring relief pitcher Mark Hendrickson. Hendrickson, 34, was 7-8 with a 5.45 ERA in 2008 and during the offseason signed a one-year contract with Baltimore. The fans didn't like the signing. However, the MacPhail family has a tendency to sign players under the radar who end up playing well for the franchise. Hendrickson has struggled with the O's during the spring, with an 0-1 record and 4.50 ERA in two innings and has allowed five hits already. While he has been slumping lately, his veteran presence will be needed in the clubhouse.
Starting pitcher Rich Hill
One pickup that has O's fans excited is the trade for left handed starting pitcher Rich Hill. Hill, a 28-year old, was a mediocre 1-0 with a 4.12 ERA for the Cubs last year, but his control was a problem, as he walked 18 in 19.2 innings. However, the struggles are attributed to the fact that he had problems staying healthy. Now, Hill is healthy—or so O's fans want to think. On March 1, he was expected to start against the Washington Nationals in a Spring Training game. However, shortly before the game, he was scratched from the start because of stiffness in his elbow. However, Hill took an X-ray came back negative. If Hill is fully recovered, he should be the O's No. 3 starter.
Relief pitcher Jim Johnson
Last year, the O's had one bright spot in the rotation in Jeremy Guthrie and one of the two bright spots in the bullpen was Jim Johnson. Johnson, 25, breezed through the O's minor league system as a starter, but after a horrible debut as a starter in the majors, the O's converted him to the bullpen, and it has been wise. Last year, in his first full season in the bigs, he had a 2.23 ERA and allowed zero home runs and 54 hits in 68.2 innings. Johnson, however, is returning from an injury and has been shaky in his two Spring outings, allowing runs in each and in two spring appearances, he has allowed more home runs than he did in 54 2008 regular season games.
Relief pitcher Radhames Liz
In the years before Tillman, Arrieta, and Matusz, Radhames Liz was the most touted O's pitching prospects. So far, he hasn't lived up to the hype, posting a 6-8 record and 6.77 ERA in two short stints in the majors. Liz may be suited for the bullpen with the abundance of arms in the O's farm system. In Liz' starts last year, he usually got off to smooth starts and faded off in the late innings of his starts, which leads me to believe that the bullpen is where Liz belongs. Liz has the arm and speed to be a very good set up man, along with Matt Albers, Dennis Sarfate and Jim Johnson. While manager Dave Trembley said Liz will likely be in the 'pen this year, he didn't rule out a starting role.
Starting pitcher David Pauley
In a trade talked about very little, the Orioles traded relief pitcher Randor Bierd to the Boston Red Sox for 25-year old pitching prospect David Pauley. Pauley was miserable for the Red Sox in 2008, posting an 11.68 ERA in six appearances. However, he faced incredibly potent offenses and it was obviously a case of an organization a bit too anxious to see a player. After allowing four runs in one third of an inning against the Mets in a 9-3 loss, Pauley rebounded to post a stellar performance against the Washington Nationals, allowing just one run in three innings. That leads me to believe Pauley had some problem with health in the Mets game. I know it's risky, but I think the O's should put him in the No. 4 slot of the rotation. Pauley has a 13.50 ERA thus far this Spring, but that is due to the Mets outing that was likely done in a time of bad health.
Starting pitcher Hayden Penn
If there is one guy you have to feel pity for, it's Hayden Penn. Over the years, he has suffered fluke injuries that kept him from promotions. This year, he is FINALLY healthy and has been very impressive in Spring games, with two shutout innings under his belt. He has allowed two hits, walked none and struck out three. Some O's fans claim Penn is the most deserving of a spot in the rotation. Penn has done a remarkable job coming back from injuries time and time again. Penn should make the Opening Day roster if he keeps his performance up this Spring. If you ask an O's fan who has followed the team the last five seasons, they groan at the sound of Penn, who is 3-6 with a 9.31 ERA in his career, including 0-4 with a whopping 15.10 ERA in 2006, but after the Spring is over, they might crack a smile. I think the O's should give him the fifth spot in the rotation!
Closer Chris Ray
The last three years have been a rollercoaster for O's relief pitcher Chris Ray. In 2006, he was one of the only bright spots in the teams bullpen, saving 33 games and posting a solid 2.73 ERA. 2007 was disappointing, as he had just 16 saves and a 4.43 ERA that could be sneezed at. 2008 was the most disappointing of all. He didn't get an opportunity to disappoint or shine, as he didn't throw a pitch all year because of a shoulder injury. Ray has been very encouraging this Spring, with three shutout innings of one-hit ball so far, as he has walked no batters and struck out three. Ray has shown flashes of his 2006 self, as his velocity appears intact and his confidence is back on the rise again. With the ever-so-inconsistent George Sherrill the closer last year, Ray's return will light a fire under Sherrill. Ray should overtake Sherrill, as he has better heat and is more fit to be a closer.
Relief pitcher George Sherrill
Last year, George Sherrill was the primary closer for Baltimore. And boy, was he inconsistent. Sherrill, a 31-year old southpaw, posted 31 saves and struck out 58 in 53.1 innings. However, he blew six saves, walked 33, suffered an injury and was horrible in the second half of the season. With Chris Ray back and 100 percent healthy, Sherrill should go back to his usual role —set-up man. From 2004 to 2007, Sherrill was a middle-tier set up man for the Seattle Mariners. He had ERA's of 3.80, 5.21, 4.28 and 2.36 before leaving Seattle in a trade that sent Sherrill, Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, Kam Mickolio and Tony Butler to Baltimore for left handed starting pitcher Erik Bedard. Dave Trembley needs to be wise with Sherrill, as before last year, he never had more than 46 innings in a season, and the 53 innings last year took a toll on his arm. That said, Sherrill should make the roster—but as a set-up man.
Starting pitcher Koji Uehara
So far, O's fans are delighted at the control within the strike zone Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara has shown. Uehara, 33, signed a two year, $10M contract with the O's this past offseason, becoming the first Japanese player the O's have signed in franchise history. Uehara was a very celebrated player in Japan, winning the Sawamura Award twice, the equivalent of the Cy Young and won Rookie of the Year in 1999. Uehara is known as a strike thrower, and he has shown that in his two starts. He has pitched two innings, allowed one hit, walked one and struck out three. Uehara does not have overpowering stuff, but has effective pitches that can get hitters out. "He wanted to get a little more feel for it and throw it for strikes," said manager Dave Trembley. "But I'll tell you what—he can throw his split anytime he wants. And his split looks like a slider. It's really hard and it's late."
Relief pitcher Jamie Walker
Last year, Jamie Walker epitomized the Orioles' bullpen, posting a 6.87 ERA and allowing 12 home runs in 38 innings. The stats are horrible, but the 37-year old southpaw was fighting through injuries the entire season, and it's obvious something is wrong when you post a 3.23 ERA in 2007 and a 6.87 ERA the next season. This spring, former Oriole Mike Cuellar is a guest as a pitching instructor. Cuellar has been tutoring Walker throughout camp, getting him to turn it around "A lot of these guys probably don't know who Mike Cuellar is, but he has some pretty good, impressive numbers," Walker said. "I asked him to give me any input that he can. I may be the oldest pitcher in camp, but I don't know it all. I try to learn every day. He showed me a couple things on my breaking pitches and my changeup, and it makes a lot of sense."
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