Arrieta, Hernandez provide rare moment of hope in lost season

June 11, 2010 | Luke Jones

We’re all looking for something positive to grasp onto as the Orioles enter the summer on pace to finish with the worst record in franchise history.

But searching for positives in a 17-43 disaster of a season is kind of like pointing out the luxuries on the Titantic before that pesky chunk of ice got in the way.

A daunting task, but that’s what we’re left with having a baseball team 22 games out of first place in the second week of June.

It was a far cry from the franchise-changing evening that occurred in our nation’s capital earlier this week with Stephen Strasburg’s historic debut for the Nationals, but Jake Arrieta and David Hernandez provided a brief moment of optimism on Thursday night in a season of epic failure.

Arrieta, making his major league debut, wasn’t tremendous, but he pitched six tough innings against the defending world champions to collect his first victory, beating the New York Yankees, 4-3. The 24-year-old struck out six Yankees—including Marcus Thames to end a scoring threat in his final inning of work—and allowed only four hits while displaying good movement on his fastball and an impressive slider.

He displayed a stronger sense of poise than most pitchers’ debuts we’ve witnessed in recent years, particularly in the sixth when the Yankees were threatening to tie and take the lead with the bases loaded before fanning Thames with a low-and-away slider.

“It’s real satisfying to throw well in my debut and get a win against these guys, it feels good,” Arrieta said. “I just wanted to make pitches and not let the adrenaline get the best of me. I think through the first three innings, at times, it did. But I kind of got into a groove from the fourth on and got out of a jam in the sixth. There were a lot of positives out of tonight.”

Another positive came two innings later when Hernandez, gaining more confidence with every appearance out of the bullpen, earned his first major league save, pumping fastballs at 97 miles per hour as he preserved the victory for Arrieta. Having struggled as a starter, Hernandez was disappointed in being moved to the bullpen but has allowed just one run in 7 1/3 innings of relief.

Thursday night’s performance against the Yankees was a brief sample of why so many scouts projected Hernandez as a late-inning reliever with closer potential as he worked his way through the minors. Of course, it’s only one outing, but it was an impressive first act.

“That definitely probably ranks right up there with making my major league debut,” Hernandez said.

The only thing more disappointing than the Orioles’ record is the overwhelming part in which the supposed future core of players has played in the losing. In reality, it matters little what Ty Wigginton or Miguel Tejada or Kevin Millwood do, unless you’re hopelessly wishing a desperate team will throw a bunch of prospects at the Orioles’ feet for their services at the trade deadline.

The performance—or lack thereof—of the team’s young players is the only thing that truly matters at this point, and the results haven’t been there. Not even close.

Matt Wieters, expected to be baseball’s next big star behind the plate, is hitting .241 and has driven in a measly 17 runs.

2009 All-Star Adam Jones continues to flail away at low-and-away breaking balls with a .251 average and 19 RBIs when he was hitting .335 with 37 runs driven in on the same date last year.

Nolan Reimold, a candidate for Rookie of the Year in 2009 before suffering an Achilles injury, is hitting just .179—at Triple-A Norfolk.

And Brad Bergesen was demoted to the minors earlier in the season and now resides in the bullpen with a 6.75 ERA, trying to regain the effective sinker that made him the team’s most effective starting pitcher as a rookie in 2009.

Even if this season wasn’t really about wins and losses, despite what we were told last fall by general manager Andy MacPhail, it’s been a season of regression instead of development.

So forgive us if we take a tiny sliver of satisfaction from the accomplishments of two young pitchers on Thursday night—especially when they come against the Yankees.

“It’s always good to do well against a team like that,” Hernandez said. “They’re a team that knows how to win.”

The Orioles are clearly a team that does not, evident in both their record and the way they conduct themselves after a rare victory with the now regular—and ridiculous—occurrence of a shaving cream pie for the key contributor. It’s just another sign that this team fully expects to lose every night and parties like it’s 1999 when it does pull off the scarce win.

Make no mistake, laughter and music in the clubhouse are common occurrences and are well deserved after a win, but after venturing over to the New York clubhouse after its 4-2 win over the Orioles on Wednesday, the differences were night and day as Joe Girardi, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and the Yankees were all business after doing the job they fully expect to do every night.

Win.

Of course, the difference in talent is night and day too.

And so is the mindset.

Despite this, the Orioles beat the superior Yankees on Thursday night behind the arms of Arrieta and Hernandez.

We can only continue to watch and hope for more of these small signs—and a willingness to open the checkbook in the offseason for some prime talent—as the Orioles painfully move through the remainder of a horrid season.

There’s no saving this season, but small signs for the future will have to do for now.

And Arrieta and Hernandez provided just that.

**Go to the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Jake Arrieta and David Hernandez about their performances in Thursday night’s game.**

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