• Apr

    A look at the 2010 Orioles on Opening Day

    Opening day is here and even the most curmudgeon Orioles fan has to be at least a little excited about the upcoming season.

    Without a doubt the Orioles will be going North with their best squad in over ten years, mostly because of the improved pitching and the emergence of some outstanding young hitters.

    Heck, even the weather here in Baltimore is great with temperatures supposed to reach into the low 80’s on Opening Day tomorrow. Of course the only drawback is the fact that the Orioles will open on the road, down in that mausoleum the Rays consider home in St. Petersburg.  Not to get off topic here, but when will baseball just outlaw pure domes?  If you’ve ever been to St. Petersburg you know it’s a great little town with a beautiful waterfront area. I keep thinking a retractable roof stadium (a definite need due to the rain in the summertime) down by that waterfront could just be what this team needs to be able to up its payroll to compete in the AL East on a yearly basis. I mean, who wants to go into that ugly dome to watch baseball?

    Any ways, Dave Trembley must be brimming with excitement as he’ll have confidence in his rotation this season, unlike last season when the rotation included Adam Eaton, Koji Uehara, Mark Hendrickson and Alfredo Simon when it broke camp.

    Kevin Millwood, while not a true number one pitcher, is a solid veteran to anchor the staff and a good bet to give the Orioles a good solid start each time he takes the mound. Last year he pitched into the 7th inning in 55% of his starts. He also pitched to a 1.45 ERA vs Boston, 2.57 ERA vs Tampa, and 2.46 ERA vs Toronto last year.  Small sample sizes of course, but it’s good to know he had some success against the majority of the AL East last year. He also went 1-0 against the Yankees in two starts but had a 6.35 ERA against them.

    Jeremy Guthrie is still the number two guy on this staff, but he may be the starter most on the bubble after a subpar 2009 season followed up by a poor spring training this year. Guthrie still can eat innings and has the ability to get deep into games (he pitched into the 7th inning in 45% of his starts in 2009) so if he can keep that ERA under 5.00 he should help keep the team in games more times than not.

    After those two come the youngsters, with Brian Matusz leading the way. The 23-year old left-hander, who still qualifies as a rookie, held batters to a .209 average and sported a 21-3, K-BB ratio in 24.1 spring innings this year while putting up an impressive 2.59 ERA. I’ll go on record right now saying that Matusz is the team’s best starter and will certainly be in the mix for the rookie of the year award. He's a four pitch guy with command to go along with strike out stuff.

    Brad Bergesen looks to follow up an outstanding rookie year last year that was cut short by a shin contusion. He had an inauspicious off season when he strained his right shoulder doing a commercial this January. That put him a bit behind this spring and he never fully recovered posting a 5.59 ERA while allowing four home runs and actually recording more fly balls outs than ground outs. He pitched a bit better in his last start so the Orioles hope he’ll regain that sinker and start getting those ground outs again.

    In what might have been one of the few surprises this spring, David Hernandez outpitched Chris Tillman for the 5th starter’s job. The 24-year old struck out 20 and walked just three in 15 innings while putting up a 3.00 ERA. After struggling last year with allowing home runs, he allowed three more this spring but showed more command down in the zone and made strides using a new two seam fastball. With Tillman and Jake Arrieta, in AAA, Hernandez may not have a long lease so he’ll need to get off to a good start to keep his spot in the rotation.

    The revamp bullpen should be strength this season, but an injury to Koji Uehara weakened it a bit. Mike Gonzales is the new closer after blowing seven of 17 chances last season with the Braves despite putting up a 2.42 ERA while holding NL batters to a .209 average. Command can be an issue at times , but like George Sherrill, he’s got the strike out pitch to get him out of jams if need be.

    Jim Johnson moves back to the setup spot that he thrived in the last two years, but he had a hard time finding his sinker this spring allowing batters to hit .357 off him. He’s usually a slow starter each spring, but the fact is last season batters hit .270 off him and his sinker was not as effective as it was during his outstanding 2008 season.

    Koji would have been the other main 8th inning guy but that role will not most likely be shared by match up guys like Cla Meredith and left-hander Will Ohman and possibly Matt Albers. Albers had a good spring after heeding Dave Trembley’s advice and losing some pounds this offseason. He put up a 1.67 GO/AO ratio and needs to show it consistently this year to stick around. Albers can have lights out stuff, but his consistency has always been his issue. Mark Hendrickson returns as the long man, a spot he excelled at last year. Jason Berken goes to the pen as well, but could just be a place holder until Kam Mickolio shows that his groin has recovered and throwing strikes consistently in Norfolk.

    There’s no timetable for Koji’s return to the mound, but his strained hamstring is not considered serious. Saying that, he’s not scheduled to fly back with the team on April 9th and hasn’t pitched since March 18th, so most likely his stay on the disabled list will be longer than 15 days.   

    The good news for Trembley is that his lineup may have a good problem, and that’s finding at bats for guys who need to play just about every day. Felix Pie (1.076 OPS this spring) is forcing his way into the everyday lineup, especially against right-handed pitching. A much better defensive outfielder than incumbent Nolan Reimold, and with Reimold still recovering from off season Achilles surgery, Pie was named the opening day left fielder. Despite that, Reimold is still expected to get every day at bats so those at bats are going to have to come at the expense of someone.

    Luke Scott is scheduled to be the everyday designated hitter, but he started playing more and more first base as the Orioles try to find a way to keep his bat in the lineup. Reimold also started taking ground balls there by the end of the spring which brings up the question, “Why wasn’t this done at the beginning of the spring?” Garrett Atkins is scheduled to be the everyday first baseman after signing a $4.5 milllion contract this off season. Atkins numbers outside of hitter friendly Coors Field are very pedestrian and his numbers have fallen off over the last three years. If he gets off to a slow start, look for Scott to start playing more and more at first base with Reimold moving to DH. Honestly, against right-handers that might be the Orioles best lineup with Atkins starting against left-handers and Pie going to the bench.

    The rest of his lineup is pretty set with Brian Roberts (2B), Cesar Itzuris (SS), and Miguel Tejada (3B) filling out the rest of the infield. Roberts had some back issues this spring and bears watching throughout the year. The Orioles traded for Julio Lugo to give them a clear back up plan if Roberts' back acts up and he’ll also allow them to rest Itzuris more often than when they had no-hit Robert Andino as backup.

    The Orioles turned the team’s pitching staff over to Matt Wieters, who in his second year is expected to take more of a leadership role behind the plate. At the plate, the 23-year old switch-hitter is expected to build upon a solid September last year when his power started to emerge. He struggled this spring (.636 OPS) but with the release of Chad Moeller for Craig Tatum, it’s obvious that the team wants the pitchers to use Wieters this season on the mound and off.

    Just like for the last two seasons, center field and right field will be patrolled by Adam Jones and Nick Markakis respectively.  Jones is hoping to stay away from the second half slump and injuries that marred his 2009 season while Markakis is hoping that the additional bulk he put on this off season will add some home runs to his stats this season after smacking 18 last year. Unfortunately, it did not show this spring as he slugged just .397 while striking out 14 times without drawing a walk. Normally a good spring training hitter, it’s out of character for him to start off so slow in Florida. Hopefully it’s just a bump in the road and not something to be concerned about over the long haul. Jones on the other hand slugged five home runs this spring and could end up the number four batter the Orioles need when it’s all said and done.

    Overall, the Orioles look to be improved from the club that finished just short of a 100 losses last year. How much improved will depend on how good the young pitchers perform this season and whether the bullpen can become a strength. The Orioles will also have to determine rather quickly whether Atkins has anything left in the tank and hope that Robert’s back holds up.

    The Orioles are not ready to contend in the powerful American League east just yet, but with some depth at AAA on the mound and also in corner infield positions with Brandon Snyder (1B) and Josh Bell (3B), they do have some options if the first plan doesn’t go as smoothly as they thought.


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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.