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With O's in critical need of pitching development, can different philosophies co-exist?

By Eduardo A. Encina

The Baltimore Sun

6:00 AM EDT, July 17, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS

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With all the talk of the biomechanical magic Orioles pitching development director Rick Peterson is performing throughout the minor leagues, the jury is still out on whether his approach is working with the organization’s young pitchers.

Peterson was hired by Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette to help develop the organization's pitching with his unique scientific approach. Right-hander Chris Tillman is the first poster boy of Peterson’s work. He joined the Orioles after building an impressive resume at Triple-A Norfolk. He credited slight changes suggested by Peterson for his transformation. After making his motion more fluid, confidence built after he saw results. Everyone was impressed.

Granted it was just one start, but Tillman’s two-thirds-of-an-inning outing in Monday night’s 19-7 loss to the Minnesota Twins needed more than tweaks. His fastball was up in the zone. His curveball was off, allowing the Twins hitters to sit on his fastball and take batting practice.

After the game, a zinger from Orioles manager Buck Showalter:

“He had a real good outing and he struggled tonight,” Showalter said. “He’s done that before. That’s why when guys always try to put everything in a little tight box like where he’s putting his foot or where he’s taking his hands out. This is a lot more than just mechanical things.”

Translation: It takes more to be successful in the big leagues.

Left-hander Zach Britton is the second example of Peterson’s work. Upon arriving in Minnesota, he spoke glowingly of the work Peterson and pitching rehab coordinator Chris Correnti did with him.

After watching video of Britton last year, Peterson suggested he move to the third-base side of the rubber, where he had success in the early part of last season. Britton said the move has given his pitches more movement, especially his sinker. He also made a subtle increase of his stride, which he said takes pressure off his left shoulder.

Peterson also preached the importance of having a workout routine to keep Britton’s delivery consistent.  Britton bought in. And he started to see results in Norfolk, leading to his promotion.

“It wasn’t an overnight thing, but I told Peterson I’d stick with it,” Britton said. “I said, ‘Hey, whatever I got to do to get back to how I was. I’m going to do it.’ So I stuck with him, because he told me, ‘Hey, I’m not going to get you back to where you were overnight. It’s not going to happen. You’ve got to stick with it.’ That’s what I did. That’s why I think you saw the starts getting better as I kind of bought into the plan and got consistent with it.”

And now when Britton makes his first big league start of the season Tuesday against the Twins, Peterson’s work will be on display. And over the next few weeks, we will know how much difference Peterson’s hands-on approach with Britton made.

Meanwhile, a pitching power play appears to be boiling to the surface between the major league dugout brass -- Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair -- and the men executive vice president Dan Duquette brought in this offseason to refine the Orioles developing arms away from Baltimore.

Duquette brought Peterson, an accomplished major league pitching coach, in so the Orioles could use his well-known biomechanical testing work. He brought his testing lab to spring training in Sarasota. For days, the Orioles’ indoor batting cages became the home of the testing, with both major league and minor league pitchers’ deliveries being analyzed. Duquette also brought in Correnti, known for workout routines lauded by the likes of Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling.

Read what you will into Showalter’s quote after Monday night’s game, but it sounds as if he has already grown tired of all the talk about mechanics work being done in the minors. It's shown few results so far. And was it coincidence that when right-hander Jake Arrieta began to struggle mightily, he was sent to the Orioles bullpen instead of going to Norfolk, where he would undoubtedly work with Peterson? And what about Brian Matusz? Why did it take such an extreme free fall to send him into Peterson’s hands.

It appears that Arrieta and Matusz will be in Norfolk for the near future. The organization resisted the temptation to bring Matusz up to fill an empty starting spot Wednesday, instead choosing right-hander Tommy Hunter.

But what if those arms return to Baltimore suddenly renewed? Does that put pressure on Adair because he couldn’t ”fix” them at the major league level? Showalter is a loyal skipper, and he’s been by Adair’s side throughout the rotation’s struggles. Jason Hammel, who emerged as the club’s de facto ace before being sidelined by arthroscopic knee surgery, credited Adair in the spring and earlier this season with making mechanical adjustments that gave Hammel a more fluid delivery. And several pitchers, Hammel included, have flourished with Adair’s teaching of the two-seam sinker.

With the Orioles approaching .500 ball – Monday’s loss put them fewer than four games above .500 for the first time since April 24 --  everyone knows this team is going only as far at its starting pitching will take it. And the organization’s short-term and long-term future hinges on its ability to develop its young pitching.

And when you look at where the Orioles' young arms are now, they've considerably regressed.

And with both parties trying to be a part of the solution to the Orioles pitching problems, can a happy marriage between two varying philosophies exist in the long run?

We will see.