Tonight when the Orioles take the field against Toronto at 7:05 at the yard it looks like twenty five year old right hander Jason Berken will be making his major league debut.
Berken was promoted to take the place of Adam Eaton in the starting rotation, and let’s be honest he isn’t taking the place of Jim Palmer. Berken will be replacing one of the most ineffective starters I have ever seen in an Orioles uniform. In his eight starts with Baltimore, Eaton had a recorded of 2-5 and an ERA of 8.56; numbers that make me miss the days of Daniel “Headcase” Cabrera and his exceptional command.
The Orioles pitching staff as a whole isn’t reminding anyone of the 1971 rotation. As a team the Orioles are 28th out of 30 teams with an ERA of 5.47 and are getting hit harder than Jim Rome when he called Jim Everett Chris.
So tonight we will get our first look at one of the young arms we are stockpiling on the farm. Berken was considered a mid-level prospect going into this season; in fact Berken wasn’t even on the major league roster during spring training. But he has dominated Triple-A hitters and forced his way onto the 40 man roster and a spot in the rotation for the big league club. In five starts for Norfolk Berken was 2-0 with an eye popping 1.05 ERA. Berken was flat out embarrassing hitters at the Triple-A level; he only allowed one home run and three earned runs while walking just six in 25.2 innings. Berken isn’t a high strikeout pitcher as he only has sixteen strikeouts and pitches more to contact than attempting to get a ton of swings and misses.
Berken a 6-0 175 pound right hander was the Orioles sixth round pick in the 2006 First Year Players Draft. Berken’s fastball sits in the low nineties and he is improving his command of the pitch in the zone. He also has a slider that is usually in the low 80’s and shows flashes of good tilt and break; but his slider is still inconsistent and has a tendency to hang in the zone at times. Berken’s changeup sits in the low 70’s and doesn’t have much movement. Berken rounds out his pitch repertoire with a curveball that is below average and is not currently an effective option.
Berken has shown outstanding growth and has surprised a lot of people with how dominant he was at Norfolk. But if he can not develop either his changeup or curveball to be a effective third pitch he looks more like a reliever in the big leagues especially with the big time talent the Orioles will bringing to the mound in the next year or two.
I think the fact that the Orioles decided to cut Eaton and bring up a young talented prospect who was dominating in the minors’ shows a change in philosophy that has been sorely needed for over a decade. In the long run cutting Eaton will show a lot of the young players that the aura of losing that has floated around the team for far too long will no longer to be tolerated. It also shows prospects that if you do your job you will get an opportunity at the big league level.
While this season has been pretty tough to watch it does reignite my interest when we get to watch young players who could be pieces to rebuilding develop on the field. And we may get another shot at excitement as David Hernandez may be coming up to take Koji’s spot in the rotation on Thursday.