A take on the rotation so far and moving forward

The Orioles bullpen, which was pretty airtight in the big win Wednesday night at New York, had a few leaks on Thursday afternoon in the home opener in Baltimore. We know the team is heavy on long-relief options, and we’re going to find out over time how the late-game relievers hold up and protect leads.

So far, right-hander César Valdez had been outstanding in recording two saves and a win. On Wednesday night when the Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman was limited to one inning, the O’s ninth-inning pitcher in Valdez could also work the 10th and did. That proved big in that game.

He’s pitched in three games, all O’s wins, and American League batters so far are 3-for-16 (.188) against him. He’s getting swings and misses on his “dead fish” changeup. He looks as good as he did last year.

He’s now pitched in 12 games and 18 2/3 innings since he got called up last year by the Orioles at age 35. He is 2-1 with five saves (in five chances) and an ERA of 0.96 in those games. His WHIP is 0.750.

He made his first opening day roster this year. When he got saves in the season’s first two games, he became the first O’s pitcher since Randy Myers in 1997 to do that.

I have written that I think Valdez could be valuable in a middle-relief role in close games. Games like Thursday. What if Valdez had pitched the sixth and seventh or into the eighth? Might have been a different result. On the other hand, maybe someone else lets games that he has saved get away. Bottom line, he’s been huge for this team, whenever and however they use him.

So how is the rotation doing?

Through Thursday the rotation ERA of 4.37 ranked eighth in the AL and the WHIP of 1.29 rated ninth. They have two quality starts, both in the opening series. But they have four starts of 4 2/3 innings or less.

It’s going to be another year when, at least at outset of the year, a five-inning start feels like an achievement. Six innings? That is fantastic.

But I do think the O’s have a chance to produce a decent rotation. John Means, unlike last year, is pitching well early in the season. Matt Harvey has looked solid and, like most of the starters, needs to figure out how to get deeper in games. He is using his two-seam sinker a lot and getting some swing-and-miss on his changeup and slider.

Lefty Bruce Zimmermann gets the start tonight after pitching well at Boston. He gave up three runs over six innings and was economical in his pitch count, getting those 18 outs in 73 pitches. His fastball topped at 94 mph and his changeup was solid. In that game he threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 23 batters.

Thumbnail image for Lopez-Delivers-White-Sidebar.jpgRight-hander Jorge López seems to have trouble the second or third time through the lineup. In Yankee Stadium on Monday he sailed through the first three innings on 38 pitches. Then in the fourth and fifth, five of the 10 batters he faced reached on three walks, a homer and single. Of the current five starters, he may have the toughest time getting deep into games.

Right-hander Dean Kremer had a bit of a slog in his first outing. He loaded the bases with no outs in the first at New York. Then struck out Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier. But he gave up five hits and one run over the first three innings before he walked three straight batters (the bottom of the order) in the fourth and he was gone. Three innings plus and done. Going to need better stuff and command moving forward. But the ability to do both is there. We’ve seen it.

This could be a solid five for the Orioles. A rotation that will allow them to send out a pitcher capable of getting them a win and/or least keeping the team in the game each night. At their best, they will lead them to wins. When they are not at their best, there will be early exits that tax the bullpen.

But the potential to be solid is there.

We also know that how the rotation looks in April could be very different from how it will look in mid-summer, and different further later in the year. The younger pitchers with potential, including Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells and Michael Baumann, are waiting for a chance. Although right now, of that three, only Lowther is at the alternate site. But so are Keegan Akin and Thomas Eshelman. Ready when needed.

In they needed a spot starter for a doubleheader, the Orioles could turn to one of several pitchers currently in the bullpen. And they could even give either Rule 5 pitcher, Tyler Wells or Mac Sceroler, a shot.

So you’d love to see more innings from the starters. But pretty sure that is a line we’re going to be saying and writing a lot this year, and so too will many other clubs.

So what are your thoughts on the pitchers so far?

Finally, check out these tweets on Thursday from the Orioles with some real good stuff here.

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