I asked manager Buck Showalter how impressed he was with starter Jake Arrieta following today’s 4-2 victory over the Twins.
Showalter thought I said “frustrated.”
“I thought I’d stepped into a different game,” he said.
Nope. We watched the same one, which included Arrieta shutting out the Twins on two hits over seven innings.
“He was really good,” Showalter said. “He pitched maybe a little better than he did last year in the same venue. I thought he kept his emotions under control, which is always a challenge with everybody. Trusted his fastball. It’s still his best pitch. I think all the pitchers will tell you that start time is a little bit of a challenge for hitters, but he commanded all his pitches. Didn’t throw a whole lot of changeups, but had two speeds and two depths with two breaking balls - curveball and the slider. Made a lot of good pitches.
“I told the players yesterday after the workout that they had done so many things to get to this point. Now just trust yourself and go do it. There are a lot of guys, whether it be Nicky (Markakis) or Brian Matusz. I can go right on down the line. Now you put yourself in position to reap the benefits of that hard work and you don’t have that doubt in the back of your mind. Jake (Arrieta) did that. We get the reports and talking to the rehab people - he’s one of the best they’ve had going through that and they wish they were all like that. He had a real vision about what he wanted to get done in the offseason and you can see it in his face, how happy he is with the way his arm’s working right now.”
Showalter senses that Arrieta likes having the responsibility that goes with being the No. 1 starter.
“You know how certain guys kind of shy away from the ball with three or four seconds left in a game?” Showalter said. “I hope all of them want to be...of course some that I’ve had, it just means they get an extra start over the course of the season. Better stats and better (arbitration) numbers. Not mentioning any names.”
Showalter joked that Markakis’ big day will make him want to stick to this spring’s schedule, which was adjusted because of his abdominal surgery.
“I know what time Nicky’s going to be getting to spring training next year. It’ll be real late,” Showalter said.
“It’s very apropos, the two guys that really had the challenges...let’s keep in mind why Nick had that problem. Nick had that problem because of the way he plays the game, because of the constant pounding and the diving and things he does to separate himself from most right fielders. Jake really pitched a couple times toward the end there when he probably shouldn’t have, but this game has a way of giving back to you if you’re true to it and it makes me feel good to have two guys today get something back for what they put into it.
“The things (Markakis) does normally in January and some in December, he was doing in February. And in order to do that properly, we had to keep the carrot of playing games as far back as we could and still have him ready for the season. Nick had as much input in that schedule as the trainers and doctors did. I’m proud of the maturity he showed in dealing with it.
“There were a lot of contributions today. Chris Davis made some plays at first base. You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who didn’t contribute today, and that’s what we’re going to have to have. We can do this very competitively if we can get deep in games like the starting pitcher did today and we have multiple contributors every night.”
Markakis slid hard into home in the sixth inning and was tagged out by Twins catcher Joe Mauer. Markakis got up and didn’t seem fazed by the contact, which came as a huge relief to the Orioles’ dugout.
“Usually, that ball from the angle they throw it hits the runner. We still can’t figure out how it didn’t hit Nick in the back,” Showalter said.
“That slide, I kind of looked away for a second. He got up. Not that I was thinking about it.”
Four times, Arrieta fielded balls and threw to first for the out. Another time, he fielded a comebacker and started a 1-6-3 double play.
“He got off the mound good,” Showalter said. “His clock was good. There wasn’t a lot of anxiety. Even the double play he turned, a lot of guys get in too big a hurry.
“When you’re exposed to a lot of situations and the clock you have to have to play up here, sometimes you’ve got to speed it up and sometimes you’ve got to slow it down. You see a lot of young players come up here and they just have one speed to their clock, but to know when you’ve got to hurry and when you don’t is important.”
The game drew 46,773 fans, and they were loud to the very last out, which Jim Johnson secured by getting Trevor Plouffe to hit into a force with the tying runs on base.
“That was great,” Showalter said of the atmosphere. “I got emotional a couple times today just seeing how much it means to the people in Baltimore. I’m not going to group everybody in baseball. This is different. They grow up with the Orioles. I’ll be the first to tell you, it gives me a lot more responsibility, anxiety, delivering what they deserve. For all of us. And we know how great it can be here. And it’s our responsibility - you’ve heard me say it 100 times - you see a game like that, you just hope that they keep that hope like we do.
“That atmosphere is special and I know it used to be like that every night. Our players, I know they get a taste of it. This group of guys talks about it. They know what this fan base is like and it’s up to us to tap deeper into it.”