How will the Orioles pitching staff do this season?

April 05, 2010 | Keith Melchior

Opening day for the Orioles is tomorrow in Tampa Bay. Per Orioles management, most of the pieces of the puzzle are in place. Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins were signed to bridge gaps at 1st and 3rd base allowing their replacements another year of development and adjustment in the minors. Kevin Millwood was signed to bolster the young pitching staff.

Millwood is the clear cut #1 starter on a team desperate for someone to step up and become the first bonafide ace since Mike Mussina. The last 2 seasons that honor went to Jeremy Guthrie who was the workhorse of the staff, but also the most disappointing.  He gave up a MLB high 35 HR last season to go along with his 5.04 ERA and 17 losses. Guthrie is now the #2 and hopefully will keep the HR totals down and give the club more than 10 wins.

Millwood is expected to give the Orioles about 30-34 starts and throw somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 innings to allow the bullpen an occasional night off. In his 13 year career, he has pitched 200+ innings 5 times, the last time in 2006 when he won 16 games for the Rangers. H is WHIP is 1.3 which, for this team, is a definite upgrade. His career ERA in the AL is 4.21. The only concerns ares his age, 34, and that he allowed 26 HR last season. He is here to also bridge the gap while Jake Arietta and Chris Tillman develop in AAA. If Millwood can give the Orioles a solid effort and win 14-17 games, it will prove to be an excellent acquisition.

Rounding out the rotation is Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and David Hernandez all starting their first full seasons on the club. Matusz and Bergesen impressed everyone last season and Hernandez. Matusz is the first of the promising young arms in the minors which are expected to solidify the pitching for years to come. He was 5-2 with a 4.63 ERA in 8 starts. He averaged only 5 innings per start as Dave Trembley didn’t want to burn him out this early in his career. Brad Bergesen was 7-5 with a 3.43 ERA in 19 starts until he was struck in the shin with a line drive, ending his season. He’ll be the #4 starter and if he can perform much like he did last season he may get to the 14 win plateau. David Hernandez pitched well enough to push Chris Tillman out of the rotation and starting the season in Norfolk. Hernandez started 19 games and was 4-10 with a 5.42 ERA. He also allowed 27 HR which is another concern. Normally the #5 starter is not expected to offer much to the club, but the Orioles must have seen something in him over the last month of spring training  that made them keep him in the big leagues over Tillman.

Last year’s #2 starter Koji Uehara has been relegated to the bullpen, but there is no bullpen on the DL, which is where Koji ended last season and will begin this season. Looking back, Andy MacPhail’s initial venture into the Japanese leagues has been a major bust. Middle relief will fall into the arms of Matt Albers, Jason Berken. Mark Hendrickson and Cla Meredith will probably be situational middle inning specialists. Of those 4, only Hendrickson seemed to flourish in that role after being yanked from the rotation. Berken was 6-12 with a 6.54 ERA as a starter. Jim Johnson, who finished the season as the closer, will be the right -handed set up man. Newcomers to the staff are Michael Gonzalez and Will Ohman. Both will be pitching in the AL for the first time. Ohman will be the late inning left-handed set up man, while the 31 yr old Gonzalez, with 54 career saves in 7 seasons, will settle in to the closer role. His best season was in 2006 with Pittsburgh when he had a 2.17 ERA and 24 saves. With Atlanta he had 24 combined saves in 2008 and 2009.

Once again, the pitching will be the weak point on this team, especially middle relief. I am curious to see how manager Dave Trembley handles the 2010 rotation. Last season it seemed like the starters were either on a 5 inning or 100 pitch watch, whichever came first. With all the big money contracts and late inning relief specialists out there, today’s starters are not expected to go much more than 5 innings. The Oriole starters MUST get  into the 6th inning with minimal damage done or it will be a long season once again. These guys aren’t Rick Helling,  Adam Eaton, or Omar Daal and hopefully they won’t pitch like them either.

The Orioles play 21 of their first 28 games against AL East rivals Tampa, Toronto, Boston and New York and 13 of those are at home. If they can get out of the gate on a positive before their 7 game west coast trip in the middle of April, it will be huge for their confidence. West coast trips are often season breakers for many east coast teams and hopefully Dave Trembley won’t be burning up his bullpen too early in the season as he has the last 2 seasons.

I am not a Dave Trembley fan and I was shocked they offered him a contract to manage in 2010. His career record as manager of the Orioles is 172-244 for a paltry .413 winning percentage.  Since they allowed him to remain the manager in the first place, they they better not make him the fall guy should the team get off to a slow start and go into mid-May with a  10-24 record.

We’ll all be following the team closely as the season progresses and I can only hope they are playing meaningful games come July or else they’ll fall off the radar screen once Ravens training camp opens. I actually have tickets and will be attending my first game in 6 years;  the June 6th game against the Red Sox only because I’ll have visitors in from out of town and they want to catch a game in person.

I am really looking forward to it………for now. That can change if they go into June 15 games under .500.