When can a pitcher's home park ERA of 5.40 be called respectable?
Before you say never, the answer could be when that pitcher makes 13 starts at Triple-A Albuquerque's Isotopes Park, where opposing Pacific Coast League teams averaged 7.2 runs per game last year (the home team averaged 7.5) and where Albuquerque's staff worked to an ERA of 6.52.
New Orioles pitcher Dana Eveland made more than half his PCL starts in that park last summer. Before his September callup, when he went 3-2 with a 3.03 ERA in five starts for the Dodgers, he went 12-8 with an ERA of 4.38 in 25 starts for Albuquerque.
At home, he went 6-4 with a 5.40 ERA over 13 starts. On the road, he went 6-4 with a 3.33 ERA over 12 starts.
"I had to pitch in Albuquerque last year and that is one of the hardest places in all of baseball to pitch," the 28-year-old left-hander said. "I learned a lot last year. I really had to pitch - you can't make mistakes there. My command got a lot better last year. I was able to sink the ball more and I could add and subtract on my fastball a little bit. Whatever I could do to keep hitters off balance. I learned a lot last year in Albuquerque."
The Orioles acquired Eveland during the Winter Meetings and sent two minor leaguers to the Dodgers with outfielder Tyler Henson and pitcher Jarret Martin going to Los Angeles.
Since that day, the Orioles continued to acquire pitchers, adding Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen, and Eveland's chances to win a starting rotation spot got much tougher.
"They need to quit signing lefties," Eveland joked.
"You know, normally I'm coming into spring training as one of three maybe. There are, like, 12 of us. I'm not even sure. But it's all right. I'm ready to go."
Not long after they traded for the lefty, the Orioles avoided arbitration with Eveland, signing him to a one-year deal worth $750,000. Despite the large number of rotation candidates, Eveland is confident he can win a job in Sarasota.
"I don't feel like they would have traded for me and signed me to a contract if they didn't have serious interest in keeping me around. So as long as I perform. If I go into spring and can't throw strikes or am getting hit around, they're going to move me. But as long as I go and do what I'm capable of doing and just try to ride out the way I finished last year, I think I'll be in good shape," he said.
Eveland is well-traveled and the Orioles will be his seventh major league team. He has a career mark of 19-24 with a 5.52 ERA in the majors. His best year was 2008, when he went 9-9 with an ERA of 4.34 in 29 starts with Oakland. His career minor league record is 51-34 with an ERA of 3.56.
At the end of the 2010 season, Eveland had bone chips removed from his left elbow and felt that was a key to having a solid 2011 year.
"That helped a lot," he said. "It didn't hurt when I threw breaking balls last year, which was nice. I had been battling it for a couple years and felt like I finally needed to get it taken care of."
Eveland, who pitched 184 innings last year between the majors and Triple-A, was drafted by Milwaukee in round 16 in 2002. He first made the majors in 2006 and has spent at least a part of every season since in the big leagues.
He knows with the O's in 2012, if he wins a job on the opening day roster, it may have to come in a bullpen role.
"I would prefer to start, but also would prefer to be in the big leagues and do what I can do to help a team win, rather than sit in the minor leagues," Eveland said. "I've done that too many times. I want to be a big leaguer and feel like I'm good enough to stay in the big leagues. If they want me to be in the bullpen, I'll take that role."
One edge that Eveland may have on some others competing for a job in spring is the fact he is out of options and would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minor leagues. He figures to get a long look and maybe every chance possible to win a spot come opening day.
After that, all he needs to do is try to get outs, not in Albuquerque, but in the American League East.
"I've done it before. I've been everywhere and pitched against everybody. I feel like, as long as I go out and make pitches, it doesn't matter if a 2-year-old is in the box or the greatest hitter of all time. If I make a good pitch, I can get the out," he said.