10:31 PM EDT, April 6, 2013
Through the opening week of the new season, the Orioles have delighted their fans with an offensive cornucopia and a handful of exciting victories over the Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins, which is just the kind of first impression they were hoping to make after last year's uplifting playoff run.
It was also just what they needed to overshadow what has not exactly been a smooth start for the pitching staff that was primarily responsible for the dynamic 2012 turnaround.
Of course, we're talking about five games here, so it's way too early to draw any hard-and-fast conclusions about either the starting rotation or the bullpen, but it's fair to point out that both have been bailed out by Chris Davis and Co. on a couple of occasions and will enter Sunday's series finale against the Twins with a combined 4.91 ERA.
Last year, the pitchers were more likely to be holding things together while the hitters groped for some offensive continuity. That may soon be the case again, since it's hard to imagine the Orioles piling up runs at this rate forever, but the early results have been mixed and the past two games have revived some old questions about a couple of the team's top young pitchers.
Right-hander Chris Tillman came off the disabled list to make his first start of the season on Saturday night and struggled so badly with his command that he needed 93 pitches to get through 3 2/3 innings. Staked to a quick 2-0 lead, he gave up five runs, but was yanked off the hook when Adam Jones tied the game with a two-run single in the fifth.
Jake Arrieta also struggled to hold down his pitch count in the home opener on Friday and required a similar rescue.
So, the first spin through the starting rotation produced just two quality starts (though Wei-Yin Chen's 5 2/3-inning performance was also solid) and the bullpen allowed seven earned runs through its first 12 innings of work. Even 2012 major league save leader Jim Johnson has looked a little shaky in his three appearances so far, though the first two resulted in saves before he gave up an unearned run in the ninth on Saturday night.
Manager Buck Showalter was asked before the game if there was anybody he was particularly concerned about.
"Publicly, no,'' he said.
Showalter added that he's always concerned about something, but – in the case of the bullpen – he said that the special chemistry that developed last year may have created some unrealistic expectations.
"I think it's very unusual to have that many guys pitching at that high a level last year, where we could pass it around and say 'that's your turn' or 'that's your turn,''' Showalter said. "Obviously, there were some guys we felt a little more comfortable with in certain situations, but to think that's going to happen with a pure blueprint like that? History would tell you that the non-closer parts of the bullpen are pretty volatile. We feel like we have some options to go different ways, but I'm hoping guys fall in line."
Seems like when Showalter hopes for something, he usually gets it. Rule 5 draftee T.J. McFarland gave him an impressive performance in his major league debut on Saturday night, working 3 1/3 scoreless innings and striking out five while the O's were battling back to spare Tillman a loss. Darren O'Day also held the Twins scoreless in his third appearance of the year before Johnson gave up the decisive run-scoring single to Justin Morneau.
"There's nothing I'm looking at and going 'Wow, that's completely different…we got a problem,'" Showalter said. "I'm not in that mode, but I'm always kind of looking, going 'hmmm, let's see if that continues,' but more positive than the other way."
Catcher Matt Wieters, who sees every pitch close up, doesn't think there is enough of a sample to draw any conclusions about either the starting rotation or the bullpen.
"It's 162 games,'' he said. "You don't build a season on one series or one week. It's built on 162. We've got confidence in all the guys down there that they have the kind of stuff that we need. We know what they can do and they know what they can do. It's just a matter of letting it play out over the whole season."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.Orioles Insider | Live scores | Photos | Baseball app
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