• Feb

    A Look at 2010: The Rotation

    Maybe it's just delirium from being so sore after shoveling for the last four days, but I'm starting to get excited about the 2010 baseball season. Perhaps it's because at our current rate I won't see green grass around my house until about April, but I'm think this is going to be an exciting year to be an Orioles fan.

    Normally at this time of the year I'm starting to think about where prospects are going to be playing come opening day knowing that the Orioles don't stand much of chance. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not about to tell you I think the Orioles are going to be World Champions or even a playoff team this year, but I do see a lot of things that should be fun to watch.


    Let's start with Brian Matusz, who was thankfully shut down before he lost his rookie status last season after going from Frederick to the Orioles in his first professional season. Not since Mike Mussina have the Orioles brought up a pitcher was this kind of talent and projection and he tops it of with being a first class person and teammate. The 23-year old left-hander will give the Orioles a pre-season rookie of the year candidate for the first time since Nick Markakis and watching him pitch every five days should make even the harshest Orioles fan's heart warm.

    Matusz is not the only Orioles starter that should be fun to watch with four out of the five rotation spots pretty much locked up with Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen, and newly acquired Kevin Millwood joining him in the rotation. The fifth spot should be an interesting competition between Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, David Hernandez, and Jason Berken all vying for that last rotation spot. Tillman, who won't turn 22-years old until the second week of the season would seem to have the inside shot after going 2-5 with 5.40 ERA in 12 major league starts last year. However, command was an issue at times last year and he surrendered 15 home runs while batters hit .297 off him in 65 innings. The Orioles may prefer him to go back down to Norfolk to start 2010 unless he has a solid spring and out pitches his competition.

    Hernandez would seem to be the most likely candidate to be the fifth starter if Tillman has a poor spring, but he has to find a way to become less of an extreme fly ball pitcher. The 24-year old right-hander gave up a staggering 27 home runs in 101.1 IP including 24 in his last 69.1 innings. The right-hander is built like a starter, but he tired badly down the stretch last year going 0-4 with a 8.67 ERA in his last six starts in September/October. The question is, was he tired, or did the league catch up to him? Most people in the industry believe his stuff would play much better out of the pen and even if he doesn't win a rotation spot there's a good chance Hernandez would be able to swing a long man job.

    Berken is also in the competition after starting 24 games for the Orioles last year. The 26-year old mainly started out of necessity more than performance as he went 6-12 with a 6.54 ERA in 119.2 innings. He allowed a staggering 164 hits and 44 walks while batters hit .327 off him. Berken is another pitcher whose best role may be as a reliever but he would have to significantly out pitch both Tillman and Hernandez to stay on the big league club.

    Arrieta is the wild card in this especially since he's not on the 40-man roster. The 6-foot-4 right-hander with a mid-90s fastball may have the best pure stuff of any of the candidates, but he struggled a bit last year when he hit AAA, and some scouts believe his best role will be as a power reliever. However, there is still some roster fodder on the 40-man roster so if he out pitches everyone he could find himself as the fifth starter, but his most likely destination for the start of 2010 is Norfolk.

    The Orioles hope that Guthrie will rebound a bit after a year in which he allowed a league high 35 home runs and sported a 5.02 ERA in 33 starts. Guthrie struggled to keep the ball down last year and the hope is it was a one year aberration. Guthrie sported ERAs of 3.70 and 3.63 the two prior years but a falling strike out rate and Flyout/Ground ball out ratio over the last three years is troubling. Even so, Guthrie still takes the ball every five days and keeps his team in the game more times than not and could still be a valuable 4th/5th starter on a good team.

    Millwood was acquired from Texas for Chris Ray and will assume the veteran role on this young pitching staff. After three sub par seasons in hitter-friendly Texas, Millwood rebounded to a very solid performance last year putting up a 3.67 ERA in 198.2 innings. Millwood is not an ace and he's not a big rah-rah guy who's going to take the young pitchers under his arm and be a defacto-pitching coach for them, but what he is going to do is take the ball every five days and compete and that alone is going to help this team in 2010.

    Bergesen was one of the biggest surprises in the AL last year until a line drive off his shin ended a rookie of the year caliber season. Bergesen will be just 24-years old on opening day and has already shown he can consistently get big leaguers to pound the ball into the ground with a lively sinking fastball. Bergesen struggled at times to get left-handers out in the minors but an improved slider that he was able to spot under their hands gave him the additional weapon he was missing and allowed him to hold them to a .263 average. Bergy works fast, throws strikes, and changes speeds enough to make him a joy to watch and besides Matusz, he's the guy I'm most looking forward to seeing pitch in 2010.

    Up Next: Minor League Rotations


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Tony Pente

Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.