The Baltimore Orioles first spring training game is today and there is a lot of excitement about this year’s team. To some it brings hope of a new season and a clean slate. To others, it comes as a comfort to those who feel winter will never end. With new players and some familiar ones, Baltimore has entered spring training with a new identity and a new goal.
Baltimore will be sending last year’s ace, Jeremy Guthrie, to the mound on Wednesday. Guthrie is coming off a disastrous season in 2009, which he led the team in losses (17), home runs allowed (35), and had an ERA of 5.04. Although his ERA didn’t lead the team, Guthrie’s 5.04 bloated his career ERA to 4.27.
It was a whirlwind of a season last year for Guthrie, it’s hard to figure out the cause, when looking at his stats. Usually a pitchers stats can tell the story for a pitchers success of struggles, however Guthrie’s gave little insight. Guthrie gave up near identical amount of homeruns both home and away (17 home and 18 on the road). His ERA was lower at home (4.73), however his batting average against was almost 30 points higher at home. It was obvious to the average Orioles fan why Guthrie was struggling; Guthrie was consistently leaving balls high in the zone and watched hitters tee off on him night-in and night-out. With all of his struggles, Guthrie was able to pitch 200 innings, one of Guthrie’s biggest problems last year was the “big inning.” If Guthrie can limit the amount of homeruns and pitch down in the zone, he could see success in 2010.
This off-season Baltimore went out and traded for veteran starter, Kevin Millwood. Millwood came over to the Orioles in a deal that sent Chris Ray to the Rangers in exchange. He brings years of experience both on the field and off it, something the young-arm’s can model themselves off of. Millwood’s main job in 2010 is to anchor the top of the rotation for, and win some games for the O’s. Also, Millwood brings a second pitcher in the rotation capable of throwing 200 IP, something that is pivotal in the Orioles hope of competing in the AL East.
Baltimore’s most consistent pitcher last year, Brad Bergesen, will be returning to the Orioles rotation. Unfortunately for the Orioles, Bergesen has just started to throw off of the mound after injuring his shoulder shooting a television commercial for the Orioles. Bergesen’s season was cut short when a line drive caught him in the leg in the 8th inning against the Kansas City Royal. In his rookie season, Bergesen, posted a team best 3.43 ERA and was 7-5. Baltimore is hoping that Bergesen can continue last years success.
This year’s spring training has been exciting for the Orioles; it has brought about new faces and has even reacquainted fans with a familiar fan favorite. Miguel Tejada is back again in Baltimore for the Orioles, however he will not be covering the middle of the field for the O’s. Instead, Miguel will be transitioning to third base, as so many other short stops do with age.
Although the Orioles signing of Miguel Tejada this off-season did not garner the same media attention as some of the higher profile free agents, Miguel Tejada’s return to Baltimore was closely followed throughout Baltimore.
The former MVP’s first stint in Baltimore was cut short when the all star short stop was traded to the Houston Astros. Tejada continued his offensive onslaught with the Astros. However, it was not all good for Tejada, last year Miguel admitted to lying to congress about performance enhancing drugs, also known as PED’s throughout baseball. It was one of the darkest moments for Tejada and even the city of Baltimore. Baltimore has dealt with this in the past, when Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2005.
However, Miguel benefited from Alex Rodriguez admitting to steroids around the same time. Since then Tejada has bounced back, and last year for the Astros, Tejada hit .313 with 14 homeruns. Although his power has dropped in recent years, Tejada continued to be successful at the plate; leading the National League in doubles (45) last year. Miguel offers another consistent right-handed bat to the top of the Orioles lineup. In light of all of this, it has appeared that Baltimore is a forgiving city, and has really embraced him this off-season.
After Baltimore traded former all star, George Sherrill to the Los Angeles Dodgers last year; Baltimore was unable to find a consistent or durable replacement. The club tried out various players for the role and none were able to hold the position. So Baltimore went out and brought in left handed reliever, Mike Gonzalez to take over the closing role. Although, Gonzalez was not a closer in Atlanta, and has never held the role during a season; Baltimore is confident that he can be guy the team turns to in the ninth. Last year for the Braves, Gonzalez posted a 2.42 ERA and struck out 90 guys in 74 innings pitched. The biggest worry for Orioles fans is that Gonzalez was only 10 for 17 in converting saves last season.
Mike Gonzalez is not the only person in the Orioles bullpen adjusting to a new role; Koji Uehara is also making a transition from the starting rotation. After Koji was unable to adjust to playing every fifth day, and was plagued by injuries last year, Baltimore is looking for Uehara to fill a middle relief spot for the Orioles. Koji brings much needed support to the Orioles bull pen woes of last year. Also, Uehara has great command on his pitches, only gave up 12 walks, something that has hurt the Orioles bull pen in past years. Although his pitches are not overpowering, Uehara’s ability to finesse hitters will be vital to the success of the team.
Baltimore also has brought back this off-season, left handed long relief specialist, Mark Hendrickson. Hendrickson came to the Orioles last year in free agency. He began the year in the starting rotation before being moved to the bull pen, after some rough starts. While in the bull pen, Hendrickson, enjoyed modest success. Hendrickson will most likely retain his long reliever role in the Orioles bullpen.
With Jim Johnson moving back to the set-up man in the bullpen, it leaves 3 spots open. Will Ohman, who was signed to a minor league contract will most likely get a spot in the bull pen as the left handed situational pitcher. The two leading candidates for the final remaining spots in the Orioles bullpen are Kam Mickolio and Alberto Castillo.
The future of the Baltimore Orioles will be put on display this spring, Orioles fans will finally get to see future third baseman, Josh Bell. Bell was a part of the deal that sent George Sherrill to the Dodgers. After coming to the Orioles, Bell hit 9 homeruns and 24 RBI’s in just 33 games for the double-A, Bowie Bay Sox. Bell will most likely start next year in double or triple-A, where he will focus on improving his glove skills.
Last year, Matt Wieters, was the talk all throughout spring training and throughout the season, as fans and the media eagerly awaited the future super star catcher. With over half of season in experience for Wieters is entering his second spring training and instead of trying to figure his role, Wieters will be looked upon by the young; arms that will be soon making the jump to the big leagues. Two of those arms are Jake Arietta and Zach Britton. Jake Arietta is next in line to make the jump to the big leagues, and will taken a similar path that Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman took last year
Baltimore’s main goal this season is to win games and finally be relevant in the top-heavy AL East. Although pre-season success doesn’t always carry over into the regular season, it would be beneficial for the Orioles to get off to a fast start. The wins might not carry over, but the winning mentality sure can.