If you believe that the Orioles' unexpected run to the postseason in 2012 was something of magic, then the most dazzling trick the organization pulled off was consistently pulling productive starters out of their sleeves.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette, who had been out of baseball for a decade, stockpiled pitchers in his first offseason with the Orioles, adding to the group of now-not-so-young arms compiled by his processor, Andy MacPhail, then practically running a shuttle that shuffled players from Norfolk and Bowie to Camden Yards.
Whenever the Orioles needed a pitcher, Duquette and manager Buck Showalter always seemed to know exactly who to call. When they needed a boost in the second half of the season, they got one from Miguel Gonzalez, who became a mainstay in the rotation in early July. They got one from Chris Tillman, who was promoted from Norfolk in July. They got one from Steve Johnson, who started games and pitched out of the bullpen after an August call-up. And they got one from Joe Saunders, who joined the club after a trade in late August.
Those additions helped the Orioles secure an AL wild-card spot.
So far this year, Duquette and the Orioles haven't had the same kind of success when reaching up their sleeves in search of pitchers to plug into their struggling rotation, which has a 4.85 ERA.
Given the early struggles of fifth starter Jake Arrieta and the recent injuries to Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen, the Orioles have already trotted 10 different starters out to the mound in 44 games.
Freddy Garcia has had mixed results in four starts, pitching well in his first and giving the team six innings of smoke and mirrors in Monday night's extra-innings loss to the New York Yankees.
But Jair Jurrjens, Josh Stinson, Zach Britton and Johnson have each made one start apiece for the Orioles and all of them got rocked, combining to allow 21 earned runs in 22 2/3 innings.
Who will Duquette turn to next in search of that needed spark?
Britton has been underwhelming in Norfolk. Ditto with Johnson. Tsuyoshi Wada is working his way back from injury. Arrieta is working out of the Baltimore bullpen for the time being. Zach Clark is now a knuckleballer, so he's probably not an option. Top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy won't be on the mound for a while.
Kevin Gausman is a tempting possibility, but the Orioles would probably be wise to wait just a little bit longer before debuting their 2012 first-round draft pick (something I plan to write about soon).
The Orioles have lost six straight, all at home, though to be fair, closer Jim Johnson has now uncharacteristically blown three straight saves, putting the spotlight on the club's shortcomings.
The Orioles have often won games in 2013 in spite of mediocre starting pitching. But with Jason Hammel struggling, Chen out with an oblique injury and replacement starters not getting it done, the Orioles may need some solutions quickly, whether they are on the 25-man roster, in the minor leagues or pitching elsewhere.
It's a long season, but to hang around in the AL East, the Orioles need Duquette to duplicate his starter tricks from a year ago.