Arrieta off to good start, Berken talks about his outing

Jake Arrieta struck out Tigers leadoff hitter Austin Jackson.

That’s the way to kick off the home opener.

Will Rhymes walked after falling behind, 1-2, and he stole second despite a great throw from Matt Wieters. Arrieta retired the next two batters, striking out Miguel Cabrera on a 93 mph fastball and bringing yet another loud ovation from the predominantly orange-clad crowd here at Camden Yards.

Before the game, Jason Berken reflected on yesterday’s outing at Tropicana Field. Pitching for the first time since Aug. 12, he struck out the side in his only inning of work.

“It was exciting, just the anticipation of getting back out there,” he said. “Spring training is great. You get your work in and it’s fun, but to get out there in a real game and to pitch well is important for me. It’s been a long time. Eight months, nine months is a long time. But the biggest thing is staying healthy. All the hard work this off-season fortunately paid off and I feel like I put myself in a really good spot.”

Berken started slowly in spring training, but the results gradually got better. And that momentum carried over to yesterday’s game.

“I think the big thing was my first three or four outings, I didn’t use my slider. That really forced me to use my changeup and I think last night it showed I was able to throw that pitch with a lot more conviction, and it’s just a lot better pitch for me,” he said.

“I credit Goose (Mark Connor) and Rick (Adair). They’re the ones that kind of posed the idea and I think it has really benefited me right now. As the spring went on, I used my slider more and that’s a really important pitch for me, but it made me have the ability to throw my changeup now as well with the same (confidence) I did with the slider, and that’s going to be important for me. Having that third pitch is going to make a big difference.”

Berken will gladly take three strikeouts, but he’d also take three ground balls on three pitches.

“To me, it doesn’t make a difference,” he said. “It’s more so going out there and putting up zeroes and trying to be consistent the whole year. One thing that changed from my first year to last year is I felt I was able to go out there and repeat myself. And Goose and Rick have worked a lot with me on my delivery and I feel like I am consistently doing my delivery again. That’s a big thing for me, getting that back. Overall, my body is working better, it is more efficient. The weight loss helped, so as a whole I really feel good about where I am at right now physically and mentally.”

Many people wondered if Berken would be weakened after dropping about 30 pounds over the winter.

“I haven’t felt this good in maybe ever,” he said. “I feel like right now my arm feels awesome. I don’t really look at velocity. It’s obviously important, but in another sense the way I am recovering, the way the ball is coming out right now is what I’m looking at. I haven’t had that luxury of throwing with this much confidence before. As a whole, I’m in a position now I haven’t been in in a long time, maybe ever. It’s exciting for me.”

Showalter never got to see the good Berken last summer, the one who posted a 1.60 ERA in his first 27 games before sustaining a slight tear in his right labrum. Showalter got a peek at him yesterday.

“That’s very important,” Berken said. “The cool thing was last year when Buck came in and I was going through the arm problems, he made it pretty clear to me, ‘Look, I’m aware of what you did in the first half. Don’t try to pitch through this to try to impress me, don’t hurry back to impress me.’ As a competitor and as a pitcher, you want to go out there and show your manager what you can do, and I want to be able to instill that faith that Buck will hopefully have in me.”

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