Carroll County Times

Orioles Analysis: Where did the arms go?

Baltimore's starting rotation to open the season looked like this: Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Jason Hammel, Brian Matusz, and Wei-Yin Chen.

As the first half of the season comes to a close, three-fifths of that lineup are currently in the minor leagues, trying to figure out how to put together any kind of consistency with the Orioles hanging around in the AL East race.

The club has demoted Hunter, Matusz and Arrieta to Class-AAA Norfolk in the past week after each pitcher turned in a disastrous outing.

Hunter came on in relief June 30 against Cleveland and lasted 1 2-3 innings, allowing eight hits and five earned runs before being optioned to Norfolk following the game. Matusz started the next day and didn't fare much better (seven hits, four runs in four innings) en route to his 10th loss of the year and a demotion. It was Arrieta's turn Thursday in Los Angeles - the team's Opening Day starter was staked to an early 7-3 lead but couldn't keep it and surrendered six runs and five hits in 3 2-3 innings.

Hunter, Matusz and Arrieta are a combined 11-23 with a 5.90 ERA this year for the Orioles, who have made a flurry of roster moves to counter the struggles.

But then there are the bright spots mixed in.

Arrieta was brilliant on Opening Day, albeit against lowly Minnesota, and turned in seven scoreless innings. On May 2 at Yankee Stadium, Arrieta hurled eight shutout innings and struck out nine in a 5-0 Orioles win.

Matusz started against Tampa Bay on June 2 and went 7 1-3 innings, striking out seven and scattering two hits in a 2-1 victory. Since then he's 0-5 with an 8.44 ERA.

Hunter was moved to the bullpen after a 5-0 loss to the New York Mets on June 19 but didn't fare much better. In two relief appearances he gave up 10 hits and six runs in 3 2-3 innings.

Those are outings unfamiliar to a guy like Jim Palmer, a Hall of Fame pitcher and current MASN analyst for the Orioles. Palmer has watched his share of losing over the last 15 years and said the team's current skid can be boiled down to one thing: not enough quality efforts from the starting pitching.

"I think Arrieta's had great games, [and] Brian Matusz had a great May," Palmer said last week. "But the consistency with the starters is not there."

Even the reinforcements are shaky at best.

The Orioles promoted Chris Tillman for a spot start and the 24-year-old was strong Wednesday in Seattle, going 8 1-3 innings and allowing two hits and two runs while striking out seven.

But Tillman has teased fans in the past - he pitched seven innings with five strikeouts in a win over Toronto on Aug. 6, 2011, but followed that up with a clunker five days later when he got blasted by Chicago (2 2-3 innings, eight hits, six runs). Tillman was sent down following that start and didn't pitch in the bigs again until last Wednesday.

With a few flashes of success, Tillman at times has the look of a dependable piece in the team's rotation. But it comes and goes too often, and he has company amongst the staff.

The starters' combined ERA was 4.78 entering Friday's game against the Angels. That's good for 12th in the AL, ahead of only Kansas City (5.00) and Minnesota (5.84). Granted, the bullpen's ERA of 2.76 is still the best in the league, but the starters are beginning to make fans forget just how well the Orioles' relievers have pitched in the first half.

And it's evident things need to get better in a hurry, too, if the club wants to keep contending in July and August. The Orioles don't have another off-day after the All-Star break until Aug. 2, and they play Detroit, Minnesota, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Oakland, and New York to round out the month.

Only the Tigers and Athletics, both at 41-42, had losing records going into the weekend.

"Without stating the obvious, what's going on is not good enough," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said after the July 1 game against the Indians. "What do the kids call it, Captain Obvious? It falls underneath the 'no you-know-what.' I got it, they got it too.

"Nobody knows better than Brian ... and Jake some, and some of the other guys. It's a competitive place, for you, for me. We have to bring what we need to bring."