SARASOTA, Fla. - The rotation is set.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter has chosen Jake Arrieta as his No. 4 starter, allowing the right-hander to pitch the home opener for the third consecutive season. Arrieta will take the mound on April 5 against the Minnesota Twins at Camden Yards after Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez start the three games against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
Chris Tillman will come off the disabled list and pitch on April 6. He allowed one run and two hits today in five innings against State College of Florida.
Arrieta was named the Orioles’ opening day starter last year and tossed seven shutout innings against the Twins. However, he eventually lost his spot in the rotation and on the major league roster. He finished 3-9 with a 6.20 ERA in 24 appearances, including 18 starts.
“I’m much more focused and much better prepared this time around,” Arrieta said. “Not that I wasn’t prepared or (didn’t have) focus going into this last season, but I think my preparation and focus is a little bit more fine-tuned. And now I’m in this position and am ready to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and keep my job all year. I think that’s what everybody wants and what everybody expects from me. That’s what I plan to do.”
Arrieta, who’s 19-23 with a 5.33 ERA in three seasons, said he’s honored to start three consecutive home openers.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “A lot of excitement there. It’s a big honor to pitch that first game in front of the hometown fans. I know all of Baltimore is ecstatic and very excited for that moment. It’s something that a lot of emotions will continue to come out as that moment comes near. But a big honor - very, very excited for the opportunity once again to throw the opening game there for the third year in a row. It’s a big deal and I’m looking forward to it.”
Arrieta didn’t allow a run in his last 14 2/3 innings. He also permitted only an unearned run in three innings against Team Spain.
Did he have any doubt that he would make the team?
“No, absolutely not,” he replied. “Whether that’s cockiness or overconfidence, whatever you want to call it, that’s just the way that I personally had to approach the situation, with that mindset, knowing that I had to go out and actually show it and not just know it in my mind. I think the combination of having that mindset and knowing I had to kind of prove myself helped me get to the point where I am now.”
Arrieta believes last year’s failures have made him stronger.
“A lot of the things I went through last year, and even years prior, have helped me grow and turn
into the person and player I am right now,” he said. “I’ve told a lot of guys that I’m not where I want to be. I’m still trying to get to that point, as all of us are as players. We’re always learning and always trying to evolve and try to take our game to the next level, even though we’re at the highest level.
“Failure is a big part of this game and if you can’t find ways to turn that into positives, you’re going to have a hard time continuing to develop as a person and as a player. I’m fortunate and I’m thankful for everybody who has helped me along the way.”
Arrieta came to camp uncertain whether he was competing for the fifth spot in the rotation or if he’d be slotted higher. He just knew there weren’t many openings.
“I knew there were going to be spots already locked up based on the way guys pitched last year, and rightfully so,” he said. “Guys have earned that. And I just knew coming in that I had a lot to prove. And I had the same mindset pretty much every year, proving myself and showing I belong. And regardless of if I’m opening day starter or the fifth starter, I still want to prove that I belong and earn my spot.”
Meanwhile, Nick Markakis is done leading off for State College of Florida. He went 1-for-4 with a walk and three strikeouts against Tillman.
Tillman threw 81 pitches and is lined up to start on April 6 after coming off the disabled list.
Ryan Flaherty was working out this afternoon when told by Showalter that he made the club. He stuck with the Orioles last season as a Rule 5 pick and will be used in a utility role this year, with possible at-bats coming as a left-handed designated hitter.
“Yeah, it’s definitely exciting news,” he said. “To be able to help the team out, it was kind of my goal coming into camp and I’m excited to get the opportunity.
“You never know what’s going to happen. You can give the best effort and outside of that it’s out of your control, but obviously you hear things. You hear this and hear that. The thing I’ve learned is you can’t control everything, so you’ve got to show up and play hard and be valuable to the team.
“We’ll see what happens and where they need me, wherever they need me to help the team win.”
Wilson Betemit’s knee injury may have increased Flaherty’s chances of making the club.
“I don’t know,” Flaherty said. “There’s a lot of good players here in camp. You never know what they’re thinking, but obviously we play similar positions, but we’re different, too. There are a lot of good players here in camp, so I didn’t know if that was going to affect it either way.”
The last bench spot is down to Steve Pearce and Conor Jackson. Showalter could wait until Saturday to make the announcement.
The Orioles haven’t announced whether Steve Johnson is being placed on the disabled list, but that’s the expectation.
Cuban defector Henry Urrutia has two hits today for the Orioles, who lead State College of Florida, 5-1, in the top of the eighth. Buck Britton had a two-run double.