SARASOTA, Fla.—The hard work Orioles right-hander Jake Arrieta put in this offseason rebounding from elbow surgery would have happened regardless.
But on Monday came its reward.
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Arrieta wasn’t necessarily aiming for his return to be on Opening Day, but eight months after he had a bone spur removed from his throwing elbow, he will be on the mound when the Orioles open the season Friday at Camden Yards against the Minnesota Twins.
“If I was going to be starting Opening Day or the third, fourth, fifth game, whatever it might have been, I would have approached my off-season the exact same way,” Arrieta said. “That's just my mentality and that's just how I've always kind of been. But to be in this position, 100 percent healthy and still getting stronger, it's very rewarding.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who has been coy in recent days about naming his Opening Day starter, made the announcement before Tuesday’s exhibition against Florida Southern. The Orioles were the last major league team to announce their Opening Day starter.
“It's something I kind of expected to happen because of the things you hear leading up to this point,” Arrieta said. “To finally hear it today, it feels good. It's a nice way to set the tone for the season. I talked to [pitching coach] Rick [Adair] and Buck about this — it is one game. It is really the tone-setter for the season for us. It's special.”
Said Showalter: “[I’m] real proud of him, the way he's gotten back. He's experienced with that environment, as are some other guys we considered. ...
“We're hoping he pitches well enough that he does it again next year and the year after that and the year after that. We're looking at him pitching some time later in the season in that same role. He was one of our better pitchers last year before he had the surgery.”
The Opening Day starter role became available late this offseason when the Orioles dealt right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, who had started three of the past four Opening Days.
Now, on the exact date of the 20th anniversary of the first game at Camden Yards, the 26-year-old Arrieta will become the Orioles’ youngest Opening Day starter since a 25-year-old Mike Mussina started in 1994 season opener. Arrieta was only six at the time, but he realizes the importance of the day.
“[To] all the fans who have been on board on the Orioles since Camden [Yards] was opened, it’s a big day,” Arrieta said. “It’s hard for me to put it into words about how big a day it really is, because I didn’t necessarily grow up an Orioles fan, but all the history that’s here, I’ve kind of have seen that over the past few years being in this organization. There’s a lot of excitement leading up into the season.”
Arrieta, who was 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA in 22 starts in 2011, pitched with pain in his elbow throughout last season. He began 5-1, but he lost five of his last seven decisions as the bone spur began to affect his performance. He was shut down on Aug. 6 and had season-ending surgery six days later.
With the surgery behind him, Arrieta said earlier this spring that his arm hasn’t felt this good in years. And for a team that desperately needs its young pitchers to take a step forward to snap a string of 14 losing seasons, that’s good news.
Arrieta started in last year’s home opener, and he won that game, throwing six innings of one-run, six-hit ball in a 5-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers. He said going through that experience will help him Friday.
“I think the biggest thing to me is managing the adrenaline,” Arrieta said. “Not only the adrenaline, but there’s very few moments where you really get that type of feeling that’s I’ve had: Opening Day at home last year, pitching in the Olympics. There are maybe a handful of times when I’ve had that type of feeling, and Friday is going to be another one of those. I think more than anything, that’s what I’m looking forward to.”