SARASOTA, Fla. - Manager Buck Showalter called Jake Arrieta into his office today with news that the right-hander would start the April 6 opener against the Minnesota Twins at Camden Yards.
Arrieta had a pretty good idea that Showalter was informing the pitchers of their slots in the rotation. And now everyone knows.
“Jake will pitch on that day and we will go from there,” Showalter said.
Arrieta, 26, went 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA in 22 starts last season before undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. His first start came in the April 4 home opener at Camden Yards after the Orioles began their season at Tropicana Field. He went six innings and allowed one run and six hits in a 5-1 win over the Detroit Tigers.
“Real proud of him, way he’s gotten back,” Showalter said. “He’s experienced with that environment, as are some other guys we considered. But understand what it’s stature is in our game, what people think it is and what it means and what it doesn’t. We’re hoping he pitches well enough that he does it again next year and the year after that and the year after that. We’re looking at him pitching some time later in the season in that same role. He was one of our better pitchers last year before he had the surgery.
“To pitch as well as he did last year with some of the challenges he had with his elbow - he won 10 games last year - and having a very similar venue that he pitched in last year ... basically I looked at him as the guy who really pitched our opener last year. I think Jake’s certainly got the experience to handle this. I’m proud of him, to get to this point, regardless of what happens. I think if he’s healthy, he’s going to be a real contributor for us this year.
“The biggest intangible is how good is their stuff? And at this stage, we’ve got so many young guys who have been exposed to things they need to be exposed to to see if they’re going to go forward. He’s got that behind him. He’s been through this before. But it’s one game. Good, bad or indifferent, he’s going to get the ball five days later. And with the off day there (April 12), what we break with as far as the way it’s lined up could and will possibly change once we get past the off day. But you get very few chances to match up a little bit the first week of the season because after that, other than the off day, it’s tough to move things around.”
Jason Hammel will start the third game. Showalter wouldn’t reveal whether Wei-Yin Chen will pitch the second or fourth game. We’re also waiting for confirmation on the No. 5 starter.
At least Arrieta knows his role.
“It’s something I kind of expected to happen because of the things you hear leading up to this point, a lot of rumors, you guys (reporters) questioning, family and friends reading articles,” he said. “You kind of know about that kind of stuff, hear stuff through camp. To finally hear it today, it feels good. It’s a nice way to set the tone for the season. I talked to Rick (Adair) and Buck about this. It’s one game. It’s really the tone-setter for the season for us. It’s special.
“All the work that I did throughout the offseason, post-surgery to get to this point was stuff I was going to do regardless if I was going to be starting opening day or the third, fourth, fifth game. Whatever it might have been, I would have approached my offseason the exact same way. That’s just my mentality and that’s just how I’ve always kind of been, a guy who’s going to put in all the necessary work to reap the benefits I would like to receive at the end of the day. But to be in this position, 100 percent healthy and still getting stronger, it’s very rewarding.
“I think the entire staff saw we’re able to see the benefit of the work I was able to do and how quickly I was able to recover and get back to full strength. I think they’re all grateful for that, as well as I am.”
Arrieta’s wife and son will be in the stands Friday afternoon, along with his best friend from high school, his brother and sister-in-law, nephew, father-in-law and mother-in-law.
“I’ll have a good cheering section. It’s definitely going to be special,” he said.
“It kind of brings back the home opener, probably be a very similar atmosphere to how the game was last year against Detroit,” he said. “It brings back a lot of good memories of that game, leading up to that day, a lot of the nervous excitement that goes along with a game like that, but it’s more of being anxious.”
Making the day more special is how the opener falls on the 20th anniversary of the first game played at Camden Yards.
“It’s a big day for the organization, for the Oriole family, for fans all across the country, and obviously in Baltimore specifically,” he said. “All the fans who have been on board with the Orioles since Camden was opened, it’s a big day. It’s hard for me to put it into words about how big a day it really is because I didn’t necessarily grow up an Orioles fan, but all the history that’s here, I’ve kind of have seen that over the past few years being in this organization. There’s a lot of excitement leading up into the season. We all see that and we’re excited to get started.”
Arrieta will make sure not to be too excited and let his emotions get carried away.
“I think the biggest thing to me is managing the adrenaline,” he said. “When I run out onto the field before the anthem, that’s when everything’s going to be taken up a notch. I think just having that internal dialogue with myself, just to tell myself to remain calm or take deep breaths or whatever the case may be, whatever it takes to calm myself down, I will. It’s easier said than done. Not only the adrenaline, but there’s very few moments where you really get that type of feeling that I’ve had. Opening Day at home last year, pitching in the Olympics. There’s maybe a handful of times when I’ve had that type of feeling, and Friday is going to be another one of those. I think more than anything, that’s what I’m looking forward to.”