O’s need Eaton to come through. Or, they might be through.

March 13, 2009 | Drew Forrester

Adam Eaton was decent today in his spring training debut. 

That’s the good news.

Sure, it’s “only” spring training and it was “only” three innings of work, but Eaton threw 24 of 30 pitches for strikes and worked his way out of a first inning jam.

The bad news?

Eaton better be the real deal or the O’s are potentially in serious trouble in 2009.  It’s not the best situation in the world, having to depend on a guy who hasn’t had an E.R.A under 5.00 in the last three seasons, but, as the saying goes — it is, what it is. 

For all the good that Andy MacPhail accomplished in the off-season: the Pie-for-Olson deal, shipping off disgruntled Ramon Hernandez, signing Cesar Izturis…and the two contract extensions for Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis — the issue now centers on the team’s starting pitching and how they’re going to compete over a 162-game schedule with a collection of young arms and re-treads.

Right now, if Opening Day were this Monday, the team’s starting rotation would look like this:  1. Jeremy Guthrie – 2. Koji Uehara – 3. who knows? – 4. who knows? – 5. who knows?

I don’t know about you – but “who knows?” probably won’t win more games than he loses.

Here’s the problem:  The Orioles have a decent nucleus of field players.  It’s not a World Series-caliber lineup, of course, but the “nine” they’ll send out there day-in and day-out is capable of winning 75 or more games.  They’ll be one of the American League’s best defensive teams and it looks like team speed won’t be a problem, either.  Putting the bat on the ball and moving around the bases won’t be a weak spot.

Pitching, though, will be.

That’s why Adam Eaton is almost a “must-make” for the O’s.

After Guthrie, who else on team is reliable enough to start every 5th day?

The Japanese kid looks decent enough, but spring training is spring training.  Lance Cormier got a lot of people out in spring training before.  Remember him?  Right.

Even if Guthrie and Uehara turn out to be quality starters, what about the other three games before the ball gets handed back to those two again?

What if Guthrie gets hurt and misses 10 starts?  What if Uehara runs out of gas in August after making 25 starts? 

What if…what if…what if…

In baseball, there’s one tried-and-true theory.  Pitching wins championships.

We don’t expect the Orioles to win a championship with this staff.  

But, let’s hope their lack of pitching doesn’t drop the club from a potential 75-win team to a 60-win team because no one can get hitters out in the first five innings.  Someone in Ft. Lauderdale tells me a few veteran players are already starting to whisper about the poor pitching in spring training.  “This could be a long six months if this is what we’re going to get on the mound.”  

The last thing you need with a young (improving) team is a veteran player or two grumbling about losing in June — when July, August and September loom ahead.  That said, veterans know the drill.  If you’re 20 games below .500 on July 1, you’re done.  And that makes for a miserable stroll through “the dog days” when the games don’t matter, the fans stop coming and the losses continue to mount.  

This is the gamble MacPhail took in the off-season when he decided to eschew the free agent pitching crop and, instead, add cast-offs like Rich Hill, Mark Hendrickson and Adam Eaton.  

Radhames Liz and Hayden Penn – two minor leaguers who have major league experience – will most certainly have a shot again at the big league level this year.  What will they do with their chance?  

It could be a blessing in disguise if Hill or Eaton don’t get the job done.  That might force the team to move Chris Tillman or Jake Arrieta to the major league team during the summer.  If nothing else, the fans will get a chance to see the future…and if those two are acceptable, it will give the faithful something to think about over the winter after the team produces a 12th straight losing season.

I’ve never rooted so hard for Adam Eaton in my life.

If he’s not serviceable, the Orioles are in trouble.

Don’t blame me if he’s bad.

Blame Andy MacPhail.