Orioles making heads spin with their rotation

Could someone please remind me whether the Orioles need a starting pitcher? I'm confused again.

The rotation and bullpen combined for 28 consecutive scoreless innings before the Mariners pushed across a run in the eighth inning last night against Chris Tillman. The Orioles have allowed three runs in their last four games. The starters have posted a 1.00 ERA.

You'll notice that I stopped at four games. This incredible stretch of pitching began two days after Zach Britton took the mound at Yankee Stadium.

Britton was off Wednesday. The Orioles were off Thursday.

The Yankees totaled seven runs and seven hits in 2 2/3 innings before Britton left the game. The left-hander also walked three batters.

Britton-windup-sidebar.jpgSpeculation mounted that Britton, clearly upset after the game, would be optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk with an 8.35 ERA, but he's getting another chance tonight against the Mariners. It's a favorable matchup if you believe in small sample sizes. In his only career start against them, Britton shut out Seattle on three hits, with no walks, over a career-high nine innings.

Jake Arrieta also is starting tonight, and he's 3-1 with a 3.63 ERA at Norfolk. If he's good tonight and Britton turns in another dud, the speculation will grow louder and more intense. It's a big night for both pitchers.

You may remember that back on July 27, I wrote about Arrieta's status as a trade chip and how other teams seemed to value him the most among the younger arms in the farm system.

As further proof, the Astros wanted Arrieta and one more minor leaguer - I don't know which one - in exchange for starter Wandy Rodriguez. The Orioles passed on that offer, and Rodriguez eventually was dealt to the Pirates. And I'm told the Padres wanted Arrieta and Brian Matusz if they were going to part with third baseman Chase Headley, who remained in San Diego.

A team official indicated last night that the Orioles aren't pursuing starter Derek Lowe, who's been designated for assignment by the Indians. It seemed like a potential fit. Executive vice president Dan Duquette traded for Lowe while he was the Red Sox's general manager. Current scouting director Gary Rajsich was one of Boston's scouts during that time.

Even so, I was told that it would be hard to add Lowe when the starters are pitching so well right now. I guess he's not viewed as an upgrade, and that includes the guys at Triple-A who eventually could return to the Orioles.

That's not to say that the Orioles are no longer in the market for a veteran starter. And Lowe most certainly has been discussed in the warehouse.

Jason Hammel is expected to come off the disabled list by early September at the latest. In the meantime, Britton will try to hold onto his spot in the rotation and make it a little more challenging for manager Buck Showalter slot Hammel into it. And Arrieta will try to get back to Baltimore and further complicate the process.

The Orioles are 5 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the American League East. They're a half-game back in the wild card race. And they've got a new scoreless innings streak.

It's one and counting.

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