Brad Bergesen Stakes His Claim as Baltimore Orioles Staff Ace

Zachary BallAnalyst IJuly 2, 2009

NEW YORK - MAY 19:  Brad Bergesen #64 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the New York Yankees on May 19, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  The Yankees defeated the Orioles 9-1.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Just about everyone knew that the Orioles, fresh off their historic come-from-behind victory, would lay a big goose egg tonight. I mean come on, this is Red Sox-Orioles. Things like a last-place team coming from nine runs down in the last two innings to take a one-run lead just are not supposed to happen.

For any "Lost-ies" out there, they all know that the universe eventually finds a way to course-correct. There was no way the Sox would lose the series finale. Apparently, Brad Bergesen didn't get that memo.

Pitching with poise and guile beyond his 23 years, the rookie righthander kept the Bo Sox off balance for eight innings, surrendering only one run in the first inning. He struck out six batters, sitting down Jason Bay three times.

He also got six ground-balls with his potent sinker and induced 11 fly ball outs. More impressive, the youngster pitched eight innings, surrendered only four hits, and threw only 103 pitches, 73 for strikes.

I think it's about time to hand over the label of "staff ace," Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie held that title last year, and wore the crown well, even if it is a little too thorny for the Stanford grad's liking.

This year is clearly Bergesen's year. And what a rise it has been.

He began 2007 repeating low-A Delmarva and wasn't on anyone's radar. He pitched superbly well in 15 games there, though, winning seven and holding hitters to a 2.19 ERA.

The O's moved him along to high-A Frederick, where he struggled a bit, but still managed to put together a 10-win season.

2008 was really Bergesen's year. Despite being overshadowed by the more preeminent Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Brandon Erbe, and Chorye Spoone, Bergesen took home Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors after an amazing breakthrough season.

The sinkerball pitcher went 16-7, threw 165.1 innings, including three complete games and two shutouts, and worked his way to AA Bowie.

He had a fantastic spring training and finally worked his way into the team's plans for 2009.

After only two starts at AAA Norfolk, the O's brought Bergesen up to make a spot start for the injured Alfredo Simon. He pitched well (5.2 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 4 K, 2 BB) and earned the victory in a 10-3 rout of the White Sox, and his roll hasn't stopped. 

So far on the season, Bergesen is 5-2 and is tied with Guthrie for the team lead in innings pitched (91.2) despite having started two fewer games.

Since he is a sinkerball pitcher, he never has really racked up strikeouts, so his 49 strikeouts haven't been a total shock, but the fact that he has only issued 19 walks is pretty impressive, considering the tendency of Orioles rookie pitchers to issue free passes at a very high rate.

His ERA stands at a healthy 3.53 after the Boston game. Among rookies, that is the best ERA of any qualifying starting pitcher in either league. And while he doesn't have the eight wins that fellow "rook" Rick Porcello does, Bergesen does have eight more innings under his belt and a better ERA, more strikeouts, and a lower WHIP. 

Not only that, but Bergesen has done it against some of the league's best, while Porcello usually faces the opponents No. 3 starter after Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson.

The month of June was very kind to Bergesen. He pitched five games and ended up with three victories, one of them a complete game, 112-pitch, 11-2 victory over the Braves, in only his second interleague start. Bergesen also lasted at least six innings in each of his five starts in the month, averaging almost 7.1 innings per start. 

Another of Bergesen's strengths, and something the rest of the O's lack, is throwing strikes. Including his start last night, Bergesen has thrown at least 70 pitches for strikes four times on the season now, and has thrown at least 60 nine times. 

And of course, given his amazing sinker, his ground-ball numbers have been astounding.

During his five-game stretch in June, he averaged 11.4 ground-balls per start, including 12 in his complete game against the Braves, 14 the game before when he threw eight shutout innings against the Mariners, and a season-high 15 the start before that, also against the M's. 

I haven't heard much talk of Bergesen for AL Rookie of the Year, but I'm on board. He'll probably have the biggest competition from his own teammate, Nolan Reimold, but in my opinion, he is more valuable to this team than Reimold. 

And while Bergesen probably won't anchor this rotation for years to come, I think he's earned the right to have the third or fourth spot in the rotation for at least the next decade. I'll gladly take him as my fourth starter.