Whenever Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette spoke during the offseason about the pitching staff that many thought needed to be upgraded, he fell back on the strengths of the team outside the rotation.
Through nearly one-fifth of the season, with the rotation returning home from a brief road trip in the middle of one of its best stretches in recent memory, Duquette revisited that familiar refrain in explaining why that group has been successful to this point.
"Well, let's see," he said. "We have a good defensive club, the bullpen is strong and we have pretty good depth and power in our lineup. And we're getting some good contributions from some young pitchers. That's a shot in the arm for the club."
Truthfully, the whole rotation has been.
Orioles starters have gone at least six innings while allowing three runs or fewer 11 times in the 14 games before Thursday, and each of the four games going into the series with the Detroit Tigers, bringing their rotation ERA to 4.28 through 32 games. That ranked 14th in baseball.
By fielding-independent pitching (FIP), which puts the pitcher in neutral park conditions in front of league-average defense and calculates their ERA based on walks, strikeouts and home runs, the rotation actually ranked 11th in the majors with a 3.74 FIP entering Thursday.
Those young pitchers that Duquette mentioned have stabilized the rotation around the spring training release of Miguel Gonzalez and the April shoulder injury of Yovani Gallardo. Tyler Wilson is 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA, and turned in his best start of the season in Wednesday's win over the Minnesota Twins. He and fellow rookie starter Mike Wright have combined to give the Orioles four quality starts in nine tries, with a 4.35 ERA between them.
Manager Buck Showalter, wary of a jinx with the erratic Ubaldo Jimenez starting Thursday, said it was the walks that stood out to him over this most recent stretch.
"The walk totals have actually gone down for the most part," he said. "They've been attacking the strike zone. We had 15 outfield putouts yesterday, and I think the strike counts have been more in their favor, I think. It's allowed us to get on and off the field some."
Showalter, like Duquette, thinks the pitching benefits from and helps along the other aspects of the team for the first-place Orioles.
"That's a big thing when you're constantly throwing a lot of pitches and the tempo of the game slows down, it puts some strain on you defensively and offensively, especially with the weather we've been playing in," Showalter said. "You think about the weather these guys have been pitching in, grip on the baseball has been a challenge. That's what really has been something to watch, is how good their command's been with the weather."
Hardy will rehab in Florida: Shortstop J.J. Hardy, who is on the disabled list with a fractured bone in his left foot, will continue his rehabilitation at the team's spring training facility in Sarasota, Fla., when the Orioles go on a nine-game road trip next weekend.
Hardy, who went on the disabled list on May 3, remained in Baltimore when the club went to Minnesota earlier this week.
Hardy is on crutches and isn't expected to get the boot removed from his foot until May 29. But this weekend he is scheduled to start pool rehab work, which will allow him to start regaining strength in his lower body without putting weight on his foot. Up until now, he has only been working out his upper body.
The main reason Hardy will be going to Florida, where he will work under minor league medical coordinator Dave Walker, is because the Ed Smith Stadium complex has the pool and other rehab facilities that the Orioles might not have access to on the road when they travel to Anaheim, Calif., Houston and Cleveland.
Around the horn: Because they struck out 20 times last night against Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer, Showalter guessed that the Tigers wouldn't strike out once Thursday to balance it out. … Showalter said Gallardo (shoulder) is still on pace to throw Saturday, and will remain with the team on its nine-game road trip. … Right-hander Hunter Harvey (sports hernia) is doing well in his recovery, Showalter said. … Outfielder L.J. Hoes pitched the ninth inning for Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday with the team losing 12-3 to Charlotte. He allowed one hit in a scoreless inning.