The Orioles had a plan. Keep Jake Arrieta in the majors, but place him in the bullpen until he worked out his problems. Don’t demote him to Triple-A, but don’t keep running him out there every five days.
That was before Brian Matusz stepped into the indoor batting cage Tuesday and tried to bunt. A ball deflected off his bat and smacked into his nose, causing manager Buck Showalter to push back the left-hander’s next start until Friday and giving him the idea of letting Arrieta make his next start on normal rest.
So much for the bullpen idea.
Arrieta allowed one run in seven innings last night and ended his six-game losing streak. It happened against the Pirates, but it still counted.
Yes, the Pirates entered this series tied with the Reds for first place in the National League Central. They won five series in a row for the first time since 1992. But their offense is putrid. If Arrieta needed a confidence boost - and don’t think for a minute that Showalter didn’t carefully consider the opponent when making his decision - he found the right team.
The Pirates weren’t going to light him up. They can barely strike a match.
That’s not to take anything away from Arrieta. His fastball command was much better. He didn’t overthink his approach on the mound. He seemed to trust his stuff. And when he misplayed a comebacker and double-clutched on a throw to second base that prevented the Orioles from turning a double play, he didn’t let the inning unravel like the baseball that Robert Redford hit in “The Natural.”
Arrieta earned another start, and he’ll get it Monday against the Mets. That’s pretty much what Showalter confirmed after the game without coming right out and saying it.
“I went back to doing some things I was doing when I was successful,” Arrieta said. “Kind of made some things a lot more simple than they were a couple weeks ago. I wasn’t thinking as much. Going out there and really executing. I think it was nice to be out there in the bullpen for a few games and just stop thinking about some things.
“Today, I found out I was going to pitch around 3 o’clock and I was excited about it, excited for the opportunity to go out there and put together a quality start, and I was able to do that.”
Perhaps that’s because he finally relaxed a little.
“I kind of went back to doing the things during the day that I did last year and earlier this year,” Arrieta said. “Messing around with the guys in the clubhouse, playing a game of ping pong, playing hackeysack with Dana (Eveland). Just being relaxed and having a good time. That’s what it’s all about, just coming here every day and having a good time and not being so tense when competition comes around. That’s kind of the way I am when I’m successful.
“I was able to command the ball inside to lefties. Throwing that sinker to them, which a lot of hitters will give up on. ... It’s a great pitch and it sets up a lot of things for me. It really made my breaking ball a lot better. I didn’t let them eliminate that pitch.”
Arrieta needed that confidence boost, even if it’s hard for him to admit it.
“It was big,” he said. “I will say that. For more reasons than one. Not only that mentally, but to stay in the hunt right now. Our division is continuing to win games and we’ve got a lot of non-division games ahead of us, so we need to pile as many wins up as we possibly can. Every win is big, and to win a series and possibly sweep these guys (tonight), it’s big for us and for me it’s a real big start.
“I have a good idea where it’s been. I know there’s some changes I need to make, some things I needed to revert back to. Not thinking about so many things mechancially when I’m out there on the mound. Rather, going out there, finding a comfort zone and executing pitches with my kind of stuff. I know if I do that on any night, I’m going to have a good outing. That’s how it worked out tonight.”
Arrieta disputed the idea that the bullpen demotion provided some sort of a wake-up call.
“Not really,” he said. “I think they wanted to do what was best for me and the team. They felt that was the step that needed to be taken. I was all for the opportunity to go out there and be with those guys for a few games. It changed my perspective on a lot. Being around them, kind of watching how they went about their business, kind of going through a routine with them for a few days got my head in a different place and it was good for me. I’m very upbeat and positive right now and it’s a good one to start with right there.”