Orioles offense has been outstanding, but can rotation join in the fun?

Before Freddy Garcia pitched eight shutout innings last night, Orioles starting pitchers had pitched to an ERA of 4.90 on the year. That ranked 12th in the American League, ahead of only Toronto, Houston and Minnesota.

Those three clubs are a combined 33 games under .500 and two of the three reside in last place. That is not the company the Orioles want to be keeping.

But here is a stat to keep in mind: The Orioles’ starting pitcher ERA was 4.77 last year at the All-Star break. The starting five didn’t really get rolling until the season’s last two months.

This season, I see the rotation getting better well before then. In fact, I see the starting five getting better real soon and getting on on a roll shortly.

A look at the current rotation:

* Jason Hammel has an ERA of 2.45 over his last two starts.
* Miguel Gonzalez has an ERA of 2.13 his last two starts.
* Freddy Garcia has an ERA of 1.89 his last three starts.
* Chris Tillman recently recorded six straight quality starts.
* Kevin Gausman has an ERA of 11.00 in his first two big league starts.

Behind a threesome of Hammel, Gonzalez and Tillman, the O’s rotation could start to put some things together between now and the All-Star break. Garcia could make that a solid foursome and certainly has poise and experience out there.

The wild card is the kid. But I see Gausman as having too much talent, smarts and maturity to keep struggling. He just needs to locate his pitches better, and he and Matt Wieters need to find the right mix of his fastball and his off-speed pitches. I haven’t seen the quality of Gausman’s changeup yet at the big league level that I saw in the minor leagues. It has been a pitch he can call on almost in any count at any time, but so far against Toronto and Washington, that hasn’t been the case.

Buck Showalter is keeping Gausman on turn and he will face the Tigers on Sunday. That is a real challenge for him, but I agree with the decision to not push him back. If he is going to be in the big leagues he has to face some of the best and I think it sends the wrong message to push him back to face Houston instead. It makes it look like the dugout has lost some confidence in him after just two starts.

The Orioles offense has been on a pretty remarkable run through the first third of the season. If the rotation can start to carry a heavier load and make some improvements and develop more consistency this team, like the current Baltimore weather, could really begin to heat up.

Coming tonight: Later tonight, I’ll be sitting in with Jim Hunter for a segment on “O’s Xtra” on MASN2 HD before the Tigers-Orioles game. We’ll take a look at some of the prospects on the farm doing well right now and take a look ahead at next week’s First-Year Player Draft.

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