BALTIMORE - Jake Arrieta wasn't scheduled to pitch for the Baltimore Orioles Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
At least, he wasn't scheduled to start. But that all changed when Arrieta arrived at the ballpark and found out he would be taking the mound after Brian Matusz was scratched.
Recently demoted to the bullpen, Arrieta (3-8) wasn't about to let the opportunity slip away so he went out and dominated the Pirates, tying a career-high with nine strikeouts in seven innings, on the way to a 7-1 win for the Orioles (36-26) in front of 23,238 at Camden Yards.
"I went back to doing some things I did earlier in the year that I was doing well. Made some things a lot more simpler than maybe they were a couple weeks ago," Arrieta said. "I wasn't thinking as much, going out there and just really executing."
After being the Orioles' Opening Day starter, Arrieta has been struggling to find any consistency, mixing a couple of brilliant starts in with mostly bad ones. He allowed four or more runs in six of his previous seven starts heading into Wednesday night.
In his last four starts he failed to get through six innings, but he looked like a different pitcher as he attacked the hitters and issued just one walk against the Pirates. He allowed his only run in the seventh when Neil Walker chopped a grounder to first and Jose Tabata slid just under Matt Wieters' tag to plate the Pirates' lone run.
Arrieta ran into just one other jam in the top of the fourth inning after back-to-back one-out singles by Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee and a two-out walk to Tabata loaded the bases for Pittsburgh. But the tall righty kept his composure and induced an inning-ending groundout from Clint Barmes to keep the Pirates off the board.
"I tapped him on the shoulder about 2:30 back in the food room and said you're pitching tonight," manager Buck Showalter said. "It's kind of out of the bag. I can't do it in five days now so that was a one-time pop. He had a good outing tonight and served a need we had."
Matusz was scratched after taking a ball off his nose during bunting practice yesterday. The lefty said he felt fine but Showalter decided to push him back until Friday.
The offense gave Arrieta some early support when Chris Davis drove a Kevin Correia fastball off the left field wall to score J.J. Hardy in the bottom of the first inning. The Orioles added two more in the second on a Wilson Betemit double and a RBI single from former Pirate Steve Pearce to make it 3-0.
Betemit was one of four Orioles with two hits on the night as the third baseman went 3 for 3 with a home run and three RBIs. The homer was Betemit's first since May 22 and Hardy notched three hits in the contest.
"I was working today in batting practice. I took my swing from batting practice to the game today," Betemit said. "I was working more at getting the barrel to the ball."
The most impressive offensive feat though, belonged to Davis when he powered a two-run homer to right in the seventh as his bat split into two pieces.
After tallying 15 hits Tuesday night, the Birds followed that up with 13 Wednesday and will go for the sweep of the Pirates and their fifth straight win tonight.
But Arrieta was the key for the Orioles, keeping the Pirates off-balance and commanding his fastball to both sides of the plate. All nine of his strikeouts were swing and miss and Showalter implied that Arrieta would be taking his normal turn in the rotation when that comes around Monday.
For now, Arrieta was just happy to get an opportunity to start again and help the Orioles get a win and stay near the top of the American League East.
"I found out I was going to pitch around 3 o'clock and I was excited about it," he said. "Excited for the opportunity to go out there and put together a quality start."