BALTIMORE — Regardless of how impressive Opening Day starter Jake Arrieta’s performance was in the Orioles 4-2 win over Minnesota, the 26-year-old is a long way from becoming the ace of the Baltimore staff, at least in the truest sense of the role.
But his ability to pitch deep into the game — without allowing a run in seven innings — is exactly what manager Buck Showalter is looking for after a 2011 season in which starting pitchers struggled to simply get through five or six innings on many long nights. Arrieta’s superb showing not only gave him his first win since July 26, 2011, but it put his team in the win column in the season opener for the second straight year.
“I just want to be a guy who some of other guys can look at and say he will get us to the seventh and eighth inning and put us in a position to win the game,” Arrieta said. “I think I have a ways to go to really establish myself as that guy, but I’m willing to do that.”
Allowing only two hits while striking out four and walking two in his seven innings, Arrieta showed good command in the first outing of his third major league season after being plagued by elevated walk totals and high pitch counts in his first two campaigns. Only one Twins batter even reached second base against him as he shut down the Minnesota lineup in front of a sellout crowd of 46,773 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
While many believed the pressure of pitching on Opening Day might prove too much for Arrieta — especially coming off elbow surgery that cost him the final two months of the 2011 season — Showalter reminded everyone that the right-hander had been in a similar position before.
Arrieta started the home opener a year ago against the Detroit Tigers and turned in a similar outing, allowing one earned run in six innings of work in a 5-1 victory.
“He pitched maybe a little better than he did last year in the same venue,” Showalter said. “I thought he kept his emotions under control, which is always a challenge with everybody. Trusted his fastball — it’s still his best pitch. … He commanded all his pitches.”
It’s no secret that the starting pitching will determine if the Orioles can improve from their 93-loss season a year ago. Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair will rest easier if the starting rotation can turn in more performances like Arrieta’s on Friday than the shortened, labored outings seen last year that washed out the bullpen by mid-summer.
Too much uncertainty remains to know whether that starting pitching will improve, especially with two of the next four starters in the rotation — Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen — having not even been with the club last season. And that’s not even considering left-hander Brian Matusz coming off a historically-poor season in 2011.
But Arrieta did set the bar high for his fellow starters to try to follow suit. He accomplished exactly what he wanted in taking a step to prove why Showalter selected him to take the ball for the Orioles on the first day of the season.
“My mindset today was really to set the tone for our team in front of a great crowd — lots of excited fans for a new season,” Arrieta said. “It was important to come out and set the tone the way we did.”
It was a fun way to begin the season, a theme echoed by several players following the win.
One down and 161 to go, and the Orioles will view each game as an opportunity to start breaking down the assumptions that they can’t grow up substantially this season. Arrieta emphatically run the first round.
“As a team we take it personal that most people write us off from the get-go,” Arrieta said. “I think we made a statement today that we’ve got a lot to play for this year.”