A matter of pitching

When you go from last in the American League to sixth in team ERA in one year, that is an impressive improvement. The Orioles did that in 2012, with a 3.90 team ERA after posting a 4.89 ERA to rank 14th the year before. The improved pitching - both the quality and depth of it - was a big key to the club’s 24-win improvement.

Here are some pitching questions the club may be looking at right now.

Is there any lingering talk of moving Jim Johnson to the rotation?: I don’t hear of any and it sure seems more unlikely than ever now. Not that Jim Johnson couldn’t do it, but how could the Orioles take the major league saves leader with 51 out of the bullpen now?

The bottom line is that Johnson has the quantity and quality of pitches to be a starter, but he’s just too good as the team’s closer right now to fool with success. He went 2-0 with 20 saves and a 0.80 ERA in 32 games against the AL East, holding hitters to a .419 OPS. There seems to be no reason to consider Johnson anything but one of the game’s best closers at this point.

What about Brian Matusz and his future role?: I think the Orioles should keep Brian Matusz in the bullpen in 2013. It was a bit of a small sample size, but he was so good when he was recalled and moved to the ‘pen in late August. He pitched to a 1.35 ERA, stranded all 14 of his inherited runners and held lefty batters to a .175 average.

The Orioles have indicated that Matusz will begin spring training working as a starter to build innings, but he could still end up in the role he ended last season.

Finding quality lefties for the ‘pen always seems to be an issue. Matusz gives you one and he is more than a lefty match-up pitcher. With his starter’s background, he could be a multi-inning reliever and that is very valuable on any team.

Is Miguel Gonzalez for real?: He sure looked like it this year. It was just one season, but what a rookie campaign for a pitcher that was out injured in 2008 and 2009 and then pitched limited innings the previous two seasons. No one could have expected to see him go 9-4 with a 3.25 ERA and be one of the club’s most reliable starters late in the year. Miguel Gonzalez won road starts against the Angels, Red Sox, Yankees (twice), Rays and Indians.

He sure looked like a polished and poised pitcher. He seemed so relaxed on the mound, it looked like he might take a nap. But that poise should serve him well next year again. Can he duplicate those numbers next year? That is a good question and my guess is many people will say no to this.

What is your take on Johnson, Matusz and Gonzalez? What questions do you have about the current makeup of the pitching staff?

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