Lauren Tilley: It all comes down to pitching

Decades ago, Major League Baseball was all about the domination of pitchers. Eventually, the league changed the height of the mound and some other rules in order to make baseball more offense-friendly, because that’s what fans like to see (I actually prefer pitching duels to offensive shootouts). Those days of pitching dominance are on us again with the likes of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum. Have you noticed that those pitchers’ respective teams - the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants - aren’t very good offensively? They aren’t, yet they still win a lot of games every season and make the playoffs. The hitting doesn’t matter much when you have an incredible pitching rotation.

That’s what the Orioles don’t have. It looked like, at the beginning of the season, they were going to have a pretty decent rotation that would only get better every season as the young guns matured and gained more experience. But yet again this idea has failed. In the beginning of the season, the starting rotation looked like this: Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brad Bergesen, and it looked good to the Orioles and to the fans.

We aren’t feeling too good about that rotation now, are we? Only two of them have had a consistent place on the rotation, those being Guthrie (which is expected) and Arrieta. Matusz was hurt for two months and is now at Triple-A Norfolk because he’s clearly still not healthy, as he couldn’t hit 90 mph with his fastball. Bergesen has been all over the place with stints as a starter, being demoted, in the bullpen and back as a starter. Tillman is at Norfolk and there hasn’t been any word of him being ready to come back up any time soon.

Then there are the names we weren’t expecting to see that we now see regularly: Zach Britton, Chris Jakubauskas, Mitch Atkins and Alfredo Simon. Britton, who was a bright spot in the rotation for a while is now at Double-A Bowie due to a few bad outings and so he doesn’t pitch 200 innings. How many of us had heard of Jakubasuskas or Atkins before this season? I’m willing to bet hardly anyone. As for Simon, he’s a relief pitcher who missed all of spring training and some of the season with legal issues. However, he thankfully stepped up when he needed to and has recorded a few quality outings as a starter.

The real question is what to do from here. Andy McPhail has a tough job on his hands. There’s many rumors that the only veteran in the rotation, Guthrie, will be traded and those rumors will most likely come true. Arrieta, Britton and Matusz are the future of this club and I think they can be successful; it will just take time and a good mentor. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from the three of them already - they have just suffered from a mixture of setbacks. Arrieta has faced inconsistencies, Matusz is obviously battling injuries and Britton allows himself to get roughed up from time to time.

As for the other two spots in the rotation, I’d like to see two veterans who are decent. They don’t need to pitch like Jim Palmer or Mike Boddicker; we just need pitchers who can go out there and pitch seven innings every time while allowing the offense to be able to remain in the game. Simon has proven that he may very well deserve a spot in the starting rotation for the rest of the season and next, but that may be difficult as he has to go back to the Dominican Republic in October to deal with those pesky legal issues. The Orioles are also considering making Jim Johnson a starter. Obviously, it’s hard to tell whether this would be a good fit without ever seeing him start a game, but he’s not even a long-relief man so I don’t see that working out. The most innings he’s pitched this season is two and the most he’s ever pitched in his career was 3 1/3 in 2008.

There are two things the Orioles need for the starting rotation to be successful: a veteran starter and patience.

Lauren Tilley blogs about the Orioles for Birds Watcher, and her thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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