Heath Bintliff: Future of Orioles rotation murkier than ever

With the arrival of “The Calvary,” there was to be an influx of young arms in the Orioles rotation and it was thought that some would seize starting jobs and not let them go. I thought that the starting rotation for the 2012 Orioles would be in much sharper focus by the end of this season. I was wrong.

Due to injuries, general ineffectiveness and the rise of some unlikely candidates, figuring out who will be in the 2012 Baltimore rotation has gotten much harder to figure.

Jeremy Guthrie: Guthrie is probably the surest bet to lead the Orioles’ rotation in 2012. He’s not having his greatest season (4.42 ERA, 4.54 FIP), but is likely to surpass 200 innings pitched for the third straight season and still is likely to be a league average pitcher next season. Of course, he is a free agent after 2012 and the Orioles’ general manager (whoever that turns out to be) may decide to unload him in the offseason to begin a rebuilding process in full.

Brian Matusz: Matusz entered this season ready to seize the crown of Oriole ace, but has turned in a wretched and disappointing season punctuated by injuries and a troubling drop in velocity. Matusz’s ERA is a whopping 9.07 (7.16 FIP) over nine major league starts this season. His performance in Norfolk in July and August made you think that perhaps he had turned the corner, but since his return, he’s been the same guy we saw in May: a very hittable pitcher. Opposing batters are teeing off on Matusz, hitting 14 homers in his nine starts. Matusz may be getting a bit unlucky (a .348 BABIP is probably a little inflated), but he’s a total wild card for 2012 and at the moment, it doesn’t look good.

Jake Arrieta: The pitcher I had the least hope for of the current batch of young hurlers. He still walks too many batters and gives up too many home runs, but he at least showed flashes of being a solid back-of-the-rotation starter. A bone spur in his right elbow ended his season on July 31 and he had surgery to attempt to correct the issue. Elbow surgery on a guy with marginal stuff is not exactly encouraging.

Brad Bergesen: Ah, Brad. He just keeps hanging around. Bergesen is probably best-suited as a swingman in the majors, especially since he has fared better as a reliever than a starter this season (3.73 ERA in relief, 5.78 ERA while starting). But with the rotation currently in the state that it is in, don’t be surprised if Bergesen is out there early in 2012 making those spot starts at the back of the rotation.

Chris Tillman: I don’t know what happened to this guy. He had all the talent in the world and even this year was not nearly as bad as his 5.52 ERA would lead you to believe (3.97 FIP). But he has fallen apart back in Triple-A and you have to wonder if he will ever get it together again. I think it’s all in his head at this point and he needs a mentor to get him back on track, be that pitching coach or veteran. But he can’t be counted on for 2012 at all right now. Maybe a stint in the bullpen could get him back to being useful again.

Zach Britton: After Guthrie, Britton is probably the surest thing in the rotation right now. (In fact, given his age and contract status, he is likely even surer than Guthrie to be in the rotation next season.) Britton’s had his ups and downs during his rookie season, but he has come as advertised. He keeps the ball in the park, gets tons of grounders (53.8 percent on the season) and exhibits good control. He’ll probably never be an ace due to his lack of strikeouts (I am guessing he will always be a 6.0 K/9 type of pitcher), but he’s the best hope for the Orioles’ staff going forward.

Alfredo Simon: As Daniel Moroz pointed out last week, Simon has come out of nowhere over the last three seasons to make himself into a credible starting pitcher, at least for a team as pitching-starved as the Orioles. When he began the season in a Dominican Republic jail cell, I assumed that would be the last we would see of Simon. But he’s been very solid since his return. None of his numbers are spectacular, but they are all passable and that’s resulted in a 4.26 ERA (3.95 FIP) which great considering how most of the staff has pitched this year.

Jim Johnson: Johnson has turned in another nice season in the bullpen and all indications are that the O’s will give him a good hard look in the rotation in the spring. Anytime you can turn a reliever into a starter, it’s a good thing. I don’t see what it could hurt if Johnson gets a shot.

Tommy Hunter: Hunter has been pretty bad since he was acquired from the Rangers in the Koji Uehara trade, but there is enough of a track record that suggests that Hunter will get every opportunity to try to make the rotation out of spring training next season. Worst case scenario: He’s another swingman.

Chris Jakubauskas: Boy, we have a lot of swingman-types on this team. I’ll throw Chris in here with Bergesen, Hunter, Tillman and maybe even Jo-Jo Reyes: guys who probably shouldn’t be regular starters right now but might just be on this team.

Jo-Jo Reyes: The acquisition of Reyes was panned by many Oriole fans, but given the current situation, I won’t write him off just yet. He’s a darkhorse, even for the back of the rotation, but it could happen. God help us.

Heath Bintliff blogs about the Orioles at Dempsey’s Army. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’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 MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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